Wednesday, June 21, 2017

If you are going to use flashbacks, here's how to do it.

How do I get into a flashback?

A regular flashback lasts one or two scenes or possibly as long as a short chapter. The flashback can be used to explain motivations more dramatically than big blocks of exposition. 

But do not attempt a flashback in the first chapter. In the second chapter, or later, you can drop back in time to explain how the conflict came about.

Ask yourself; is this information necessary for readers to know? Will this provide a better understanding of the plot? If you’re convinced, you should have a flashback in this location (but not in Chapter One) then, go ahead.

Getting in and out of a flashback is not difficult. It requires separate, simple shifts. From Revenge in Reno:

The rain beating mercilessly on the windshield [1. We are in the present] took Veronica back, as it often did, to a tragic rainy night in 1999, the last time she had seen Margo Crane alive.” [2. We are now leaving the present] Veronica and Margo had eaten dinner in midtown Reno. It was the first time she'd seen Margo since her divorce five years earlier.
[We are firmly in the past, as evidenced by “had eaten” which now becomes the present for this scene. The flashback scene goes on for several pages until Margo is killed and Veronica talks to a nurse in the hospital.]
The nurse took in a deep breath and said, “The police say she was dead at the scene. I’m sorry.” [1. We are still in the past.]
In a lightning-like instant on a rainy February night, Veronica had lost her best friend, Margo Crane, forever. 
[2. We are leaving the past and returning to the present.] Veronica lifted her head and finally turned the key in the ignition, preparing to drive home through the dark, rainy Reno night. [We're back in the immediate present, once again.]

Notice I used something memorable to trigger the flashback, went directly into the flashback, and then brought readers back out of the flashback through the same door I had led them in. (The rain.)

The “something memorable” used to trigger the flashback can be an unusual combination of words, a visual image, a place, an incident, an overheard snatch of conversation, a smell, an unusual color; it can be anything which logically recalls the past to the protagonist.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews