Flashbacks: Function not Fallback
I’ve doing some thinking lately about the back story of my WIP. The more I think things through, the more I realize how much impact the events & people of an earlier generation have on my MC’s current life. And of course that got me started thinking about how, where, & when to place that back story in a quickly paced, forward-moving story in the “now.” Which led me to flashbacks.
In general, I’m not a fan. That isn’t to say that wonderful flashbacks aren’t written every day–I’ve read many. But when I was editing, I frequently saw flashbacks being used as a fallback tool, when the author couldn’t find another way to weave the information into the story. The flashback became a way for the writer to simply insert history into the present. I don’t think that’s enough reason to take your reader out of the moment, out of the scene.
I believe a flashback has to have a strong function, or purpose, to justify it’s presence in a story.
- The flashback has to be caused by something happening in the story, at that moment.
- The thing (object, person, event, etc) that causes the flashback has to be powerful enough to believably send the point-of-view character into the past.
- The flashback has to impact the scene in which it takes place. In other words, the flashback cannot just be a memory. It has to be a memory that changes, in some way, the direction the point-of-view character was headed before the flashback occurred.
Again, this is a personal taste. I’m going to try and avoid setting my back story into a flashback structure. (Hopefully, this statement doesn’t come under the heading of famous last words!) One of the things I want to show is how close the past is to us, despite how far away it may feel. The less distance I can place between the immediacy of my main story and the details of this other layer, the more strongly I think I’ll be showing that connection.
What about you? Do you favor flashbacks or fend them off? 🙂