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It’s been a while since I’ve answered an e-mail with a blog post, probably because most of the time I’ve already blogged about the topic, but every once in a while one of you fabulous readers points out a topic I haven’t covered. Yay!
Today's lovely e-mail is...
My question is what is your opinion about flashbacks? When and when not should you use them-or should you use them at all? And what should you do and not do?
Some people I have talked to said that they dislike using and reading flashbacks, but I have found that I cannot get rid of the flashbacks without completely changing the story, and making longer than I wanted.
Flashbacks! So this may actually surprise you guys, but I actually like flashbacks…to a point.
As with most writing-related topics, the key is balance. I think, depending on the situation, flashbacks can serve as a really great way to show some background information without info-dumping, particularly because the whole point of the flashback is to show the action. I tend to use flashbacks in my own writing quite a bit for that purpose.
However, if you’re not careful, you can definitely overdo it.
I’ve compared stylistic elements in writing to spices in a stew in the past, and I definitely consider flashbacks one of those stylistic spices. A dash of flashbacks here and a splash of flashbacks there can be a super effective way of revealing information about our characters backgrounds in a way that feels immediate and interesting. Too much of it, however, and the flashbacks lose their effect and the rest of the manuscript can drown in nostalgia.
So when should you use flashbacks? Personally, I think the best use of flashbacks are to reveal a very significant event in your character’s life in a way that feels as important and immediate as the rest of the plot. These should be events that the readers need to know to really understand the plot and your characters. It also needs to be an event that your character remembers, assuming you’re not writing from an omniscient POV.
So, for example, your protagonist’s birth is probably not going to be a good flashback because a) if we’re in your protagonist’s POV, they’re not going to remember it and b) it’s probably not an event significant enough to flash back to. PROBABLY. I mean, there are always exceptions, but anyway.
An example of a potentially good flash back is a traumatic event from your protagonist’s background—one that has relevance to the plot, of course.
Basically, when thinking about writing flashbacks, you want to ask yourself, is this event/information absolutely vital to the plot? and is this the most effective way to show this information? If you answer “I don’t know” or “no” to either of those, you may want to do some more brainstorming before jumping into a flashback.
So there you go! Keep your flashbacks balanced, don’t overdue them and make sure they’re vital to the plot, and I say happy flashbacking.
Do you use flashbacks in your writing? How do you feel about writing or reading them?
Do you use flashbacks in your writing? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips for making them effective. (Click to tweet)
How do you feel about writing or reading flashbacks? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)