by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2013
F is for Flashback
The purpose of the flashback is to provide the reader with information about that character’s past. In the novel I’m working on right now, the heroine has good reason to keep who and what she is a secret from the hero. He’s no fool, so he figures out a few things about her on his own. My challenge lies in showing the reader the traumatic events that led up to the opening scene of the novel where the heroine runs away from her guards, get lost, and ends up where the hero finds her.
I can’t just plunge my heroine and the reader into a flashback. Or can I? My heroine is suffering from what amounts to PTSD. Instead of just mooning over her tragic memories, she might very well have a flashback as per the #2 definition above, the kind brought on by psychological trauma. The right trigger in the physical or emotional environment could set her off. Dialogue is a great place to plant triggers. The hero asks what he thinks is a reasonable question and suddenly the heroine bursts into tears, curls up into a ball, and won’t say another word.
Flashbacks are tricky. If you’re not careful, they can turn into the worst combinations of the Back Story and the Expository Lump. Use the flashback to advance the story by providing what the reader needs to know in a vivid, dramatic scene. Make sure your transition into the flashback is clear. The use of the # symbol is a common method. Use it again to signal the end of the flashback, then keep on moving forward!