To Flashback or Not to Flashback: Ask 5 Questions

Flashbacks are tricky to write, and some authors recommend avoiding them altogether. Readers sometimes skip flashbacks because they look like mere interruptions. Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure your flashback is a welcome addition to your work.

  1. Does this flashback shed light on the character(s) and the present story in a significant way?
  2. Is it a scene with dialogue and action, preferably showing characters in conflict?
  3. Does the story slip into and out of the flashback as quickly as possible?
  4. Is the first sentence of the flashback compelling?
  5. Is it written in simple past tense rather than past perfect (example: “walked” vs. “had walked”)?

If you’ve polished your flashback to perfection but it still feels like an interruption, cut it out and shed light on your character(s) and plot through the present scene instead.

Happy revising!

—The Editors

Reference: Stein, Sol. “Flashbacks: How to Bring Background into the Foreground.” Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.

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