A ﬂashback is a literary time machine with strong headlights, illuminating background events and thus making the ﬁctional present clearer and more interesting to your readers.
However, you risk a lot by using this time machine too soon or too often. If you begin the novel with a ﬂashback, you have started the manuscript in the wrong place. Don't do it. Don't attempt even one ﬂashback until your novel is truly launched into the present.
The whole idea of a ﬂashback is to provide information from the past which helps to explain the motivations of the protagonist or which explains the history of something that’s happening in the present. Until readers know who the protagonist is and understand what conﬂict faces her, they don’t care what happened in the character’s past. And this points to the whole problem with a ﬂashbacks:
If readers do not yet know what’s going on now in the book, they cannot understand nor appreciate what happened in the past. Since readers know nothing about the character’s present life, they can’t evaluate the consequence of an event in their past.
The purpose of the beginning of a novel is to hook readers with drama and excitement; to let readers care for the people as they unfold their lives in the “now” of present time.
Only when the forward motion of the present is strong, should you risk leaving it for a little while, to return to the past.
Flashbacks offer many pitfalls. Even the best-written flashback carries a built-in disadvantage: It is, by definition, already over. The scene you are detailing in your flashback is not happening in story time. It happened sometime earlier, and so we are being given old information. The flashback lacks immediacy.
When you do choose to write a ﬂashback, be aware that there are three types of ﬂashbacks: a frame, a ﬂashback and a recollection.
- The frame is actually a ﬂashback that lasts nearly the entire length of the book. The book opens with a scene that occurs after the main action is over. Often, in fact, the point of view is that of a character recalling events of many years ago. (Like Doctor Watson recalling an adventure with Sherlock Holmes.) The recollection slips into the main story (the ﬂashback) and then stays there until the last few pages, at which time the story may or may not revert to the time frame of the opening scene. In other words, the whole book is a ﬂashback. Readers are seldom confused by this kind of ﬂashback because they are asked to make only one shift in time, after which the story proceeds chronologically. However, many stories do not lend themselves to this type of ﬂashback.
- A regular ﬂashback lasts one or two scenes or perhaps as long as an entire chapter. That ﬂashback can provide the necessary background. It can explain motivations more dramatically than big blocks of exposition. It allows you to start in the middle of conﬂict, of something happening, and then, once readers are hooked, you can drop back in time to explain how the conﬂict came about.
- A ﬂashback is a full scene, however, a recollection is more like an aside. An example of a recollection, from my book Option To Die:
- A recollection is a fragment of a larger past scene.
- A ﬂashback is a full scene.
- A recollection is merely a brief fragment of the past brought back to the consciousness of the protagonist.
- While a ﬂashback is usually longer than a recollection, it need not be lengthy. It simply has to be a complete, individual entity.
----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.) http://smarturl.it/novsec