A few weeks ago, a Redditor reached out to me in a direct message to ask a question. I hope my response will be useful to my fellow writers. You can read my last FAQ Friday post here.
Question: My commute to work has given me the opportunity to make my way through your youtube lessons and I’m now listening to the writing excuses podcast, so I consider you my favorite professor. I apologies if you have covered this in some form, I may not have listened to that yet.
My question is about flashback scenes. When thinking about where I’m going in my story, I imagine needing to use flashbacks, although I haven’t yet. My question is – what method do you use instead of a flashback? How do you give a sense of what happened and previous info without using a flashback?
Hey! Good luck with your writing.
That’s a great question, because often you don’t want to use a flashback. You have to be very careful with them, for while they can do some interesting things with narrative, they can also kill story momentum dead.
My favorite way to indicate things that have previously happened without using flashbacks is to make certain your characters act like they have established history together. They will have inside jokes, will make references to the past, and otherwise indicate that they’ve known each other for years. (Where appropriate.)
Likewise, things that happened in the past that you don’t intend to show in a flashback can have a huge effect on society. Think about the 9/11 disaster in America, which many are talking about this month. Could you convey in your story that similar disaster happened, but without going into too much exposition or a flashback? Practice trying it with real-world events, making your characters talk about it naturally. (Without straying into them telling each other information that they’d both obviously know. Like I didn’t need to say to you, “Well, almost twenty years ago there was this terrorist attack on the United States…”)
Practice subtlety like that, and often you won’t need flashbacks. (And it will perhaps teach you when a flashback is more powerful or useful for you to use.)