View Full Version : Flashbacks: friend or foe?

Saffire Persian
3rd January 2006, 11:19 PM
Flashbacks. They're a tool some writers use in their narrative to show a past event in more detail, instead of telling through a different form or not at all; however, when it comes down to it, are flashbacks really that useful of a writing technique, or is it one that's best left unused?

3rd January 2006, 11:33 PM
Well, I've used flashbacks to explain certain events.

For example, I used one to explain how Aquita got pregnant with Mateo's child. In the same context, I put the flashback in a place to remind Aquita and Mateo of a happier time since Mateo had the flashback on the ride to Aquarius after witnessing Sirak's death. Plus, it helped Mateo realize he's going to be a dad.

I used flashbacks again in my story to show instances of how people met etc because that and the El Paso scene happen in between stories. Flashbacks can be good or bad. Sometimes, for my purposes they help to illustrate a point and show the reader what went on before and how a situation made them how they are.

Comics tend to use them from time to time. There's no need to shy away from them totally. It's just best, I think to use them when the opportune time arises like in chapter 4 of my story.

Here we have Aquita and Mateo riding to Aquarius. Sirak's body's in the back of the shuttlecraft. He's thinking about how Sirak learned of the pregnancy and what he said to him in chapter 3. He looks to Aquita and feels her stomach and realizes he's going to be a dad. So, he thinks back on a happier time months ago.

In that instance, the flashback shows how people react to things happening and shows how their lives changed in the short month.

There were small flashbacks in chapter 14, too but those were to show the interconneciting lives of those two. So, flashbacks can be good tools. Just use them wisely.


Flaming Lip
3rd January 2006, 11:33 PM
Its useful, but you know the transistion from, someone explaining a flash back, to actual narrative is annoying, unless you go to the flashback randomly. Its a good techinique, but it should be used in moderation. To many flashbacks slow the story down.

3rd January 2006, 11:37 PM
Well, it really does depend on how the story goes. If the character had a somewhat troubled past that made them the way he/she is, the reader might want an idea of what happened at that particular time and place.

If the author is talented and has created a character that has a complex past, flashbacks are a useful writing technique. That certain moment could become a somewhat helpful link in the story's plot.

But if the situation doesn't call upon a flashback, they are best left unused for if they are not well written or confusing in a way, it could screw up the fic.

The Big Al
3rd January 2006, 11:42 PM
I used many flash backs in my fan fics and the transition is awful. But they really help with continuity and creating back stories.

4th January 2006, 12:03 AM
I don't particularly like flashbacks somewhere in the middle of the story's flow, but in The Quest for the Legends I have quite a few flashbacks in the form of extras, with the things readers need to know said briefly in the actual fic and the details being told in something optional.

4th January 2006, 12:11 AM
I'm generally not a fan of them. As far as my opinion goes, some authors tend to lean on them, crutch-like, in order to provide an instant back-story for their characters. The transition between the (narrative) past and present, and also its placement in the story can be jarring, to say the least. Show, don't tell, is what I've always believed in.

Of course, that's not to say that they can't be used effectively. If it can be used in some sort of creative or innovative way, rather than just the cop-out method of 'Oh, but don't you remember when this happened? *cueflashback* way of writing, then it's gonna make your stories a whole lot better. I'm kinda thinking Kurosawa's Rashomon, or even Chris Nolan's Memento here. Yes, they're films, but they're pretty good examples nonetheless of good flashbacks.

Me? Still hate 'em, though.

Burnt Flower
4th January 2006, 12:17 AM
I really don't mind flashbacks.

...I only loathe the stupid [Flashback Starts] tags that get on my last nerves. =/

4th January 2006, 2:00 AM
Hmmm...I use flashbacks a lot, because I hate to have to start everything from the bottom and build up. My way of doing flashbacks are a little weird, as I don't really announce when it starts...I put them as a seamless part of the story when it's called for. It seems easier than having the whole tedious "character narrative" thing.

4th January 2006, 3:36 AM
Flashbacks can be powerful devices, but only if wielded properly. Often, people put them in the most jarring places. A good place to start is to not label them. For example, this is bad:


~*~*~* End Flasback *~*~*~

You have to have some sort of way to make the story naturally flow into and out of the flashback; usually you need some sort of trigger that would legitimately cause the main character to remember something (your flashback).

4th January 2006, 3:53 AM
Would telepathy induced memories caused by a pool of healing water and embracing a natural telepath count as flashbacks though? I'm not sure because of how I wrote them as quick snippets of memory showing Mateo and Aquita's love from first sight to now. It could be a flashback. Not sure. They're pretty quick. Plus it had a cameo of things to come. I mean it could have just been induced by Aquita's natural powers.


4th January 2006, 6:13 AM
Flashbacks are an essential part of my main fic (Rejected) and are used constantly... but the flashbacks are used in a special way.

Unlike in most fics, the flashbacks aren't necessarely intentionnal... and sometimes, the characters is plunged in a memory that doesn't even belong to that same character.

The goal of the flashbacks is not only for background story but to actually further the plot ; for every mystery the flashbacks resolve, a new mystery is created by that same flashback and thus, character development takes place as the character try to absorb the information and use it in whatever way it might see fit.

But well, that's beside the point, isn't it?

Flashbacks are extremely powerful tools... when used correctly. A flashback is not an excuse for zero character development and they must be pulled off well ; I usually frown on "flashback tags" as people call them.

4th January 2006, 6:57 AM
Flashbacks, like power, are neither good nor evil. It depends on who types it.

I'm planning on using them in my fanfic Other Worlds in one of these chapters.

6th January 2006, 6:25 PM
They can be useful, but more than one isn't good, I'm gonna do one in the legend's betrayal..

6th January 2006, 6:35 PM
I have a very unusual flashback planned. It takes the form of a nightmare which I can't really say much on as it is basically a flashback to a prior incarnation. It's used to serve as the thing where you red a big moment in a story, then remember it and think 'Oh yeah, I remember that. Now it makes sense,' It's puleed off simply. I just reveal his thoughts with italics. It's very confusing.

I prefer to use flashforwards, or premonitions. Can work the same as a flashback. There are many ways to do flashbacks. I use the easiest way that is accepted as 'alright'. Dream sequences.

I mainly use flashbacks and flashforwards to give the reader something to remember, revealing teeny bits of the bigger plot slowly, then hitting them with the biggest twist ever and all these seemingly random flashes and dreams making perfect sense.

6th January 2006, 7:39 PM
Anyone have an answer to my question? I was wondering if that's considered a flashback. I have one really needed flashback back in chapter 4 of my story. Some time had passed between my last story and New Beginnings and Aquita was suddenly a month pregnant, so I had to explain how it all happened.

Chapter 14 comes along and Mateo and Aquita are in dire straits. The memories healed the baby and we see memorieso of their lives. All good parts. But, would telepathy like that count as a flashback? The memories healed the baby and Aquita along with the water. They needed to go into the pool because of a telepathic negative emotion feedback loop. This is why abortion's lethal to the alien women in the story.

So, what would you classify that?


6th January 2006, 8:21 PM
Posted by Ledian X:

Chapter 14 comes along and Mateo and Aquita are in dire straits. The memories healed the baby and we see memorieso of their lives. All good parts. But, would telepathy like that count as a flashback? The memories healed the baby and Aquita along with the water. They needed to go into the pool because of a telepathic negative emotion feedback loop. This is why abortion's lethal to the alien women in the story.

I would honestly call that a flashback. Flashbacks are really just memories that the character has, for whatever reason they may be used.

7th January 2006, 10:34 PM
Flasbacks depend on who is typing it. If the writer is new, then usually they suck and, -as stated-, have all sorts of fancy pagebreakers that makes it look unprofessional and breaks the flow of the story.

My flashbacks are a little weird. I Itailicize everything, and use a technique that I call 'Fragmenting'. Instead of using the normal copy&paste routine, I will delete certain parts like excessive adjectives and give the scene a vivid feel. Lots of extending periods are a common sight too. (...)

I use it because when you remember something, you don't exactly remember each and every detail, do you? And, I use it also because I thought I'd be different.

8th January 2006, 5:27 PM
Instead of flashbacks, I usually just let one of the characters tell the story through speech, as it shows it from their point of view.

8th January 2006, 6:31 PM
I think that flashbacks can be powerful tools when used correctly by the right person. Also, the moment in which the flashback occurs should happen at the right time so its effect could be more powerful (usually dramatically). But the way to incorporate the flashback, and what its about (what's in it) also impacts its effect.

I find that newbie/n00b writers tend to use them a lot to explain something about the history of either a region/area/city or a character. This is often done just because they're too lazy to try and incorporate it any other way.

That's why the more advance writers could pull off a flashback much better, mostly because they know cause/effect and how the flashback will impact the story.

I'll try to give some examples of ways to incorporate flashbacks.

-A character is alone and mulling over their past, sometimes trying to figure something out. This is a very common scene for a flashback.

-Something reminds a character of something they may have done in the past.

-Remembering a past even through a dream/nightmare. Using this idea, the flashback can be made more dramatic if things that happen in the dream/nightmare are over-exaggerated.

Bad flashbacks happen at random times, have no emotional impact on the character or reader and are sometimes about random, meaningless things, or even that didn’t happen to the character.

So I think they could really go either way. Flashbacks could either make or break a scene.
Beginning writers should stay clear of them, and even the better writers should be careful when using them. They’re powerful tools, but should not be overused, lest their impact be smaller.