Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Not seen much discussion on this topic and wanted some reader input. What are your personal opinions on the use of flashbacks? I can see a general consensus that if something happened 5 minutes ago unless the flashback adds in a major detail it isn't worth the time.

How long between events would you prefer flashbacks to occur? A few chapters or even an entire volume if you forgot the context of a scene?
How many is too many? 
Where are flashbacks best placed? In the middle of conversations to give context while breaking up the flow, or before/after to hug around the events the flashbacks are attached to.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Generally less is more in terms of flashbacks. As they do break the flow of a story, using too many will bog down the story. Also, they shouldn't be too long. perhaps a paragraph or two at most. I wouldn't put them in the middle of a conversation, but before it if the flashback is relevant to the conversation. I don't know about flashbacks to events which occurred earlier in the story. I'd think a brief mention of the event would be sufficient to remind readers about it. Done well, flashbacks can be a good tool to bring depth to a character, but they can be over used.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

I'm definitely biased because I use flashbacks to cover important events from outside the timeframe of the plot.

I'd advice against putting them mid conversation. As Parker said above it can disrupt the flow, which I think is the biggest thing to avoid when using flashbacks.

I guess either the beginning or ending of a scene (or to be a scene in their own right) makes the most sense to me. If necessary you can have a short event beforehand to act as a trigger if you think it makes sense, but otherwise I think it should almost stand alone on its own to be worth inclusion.

Unless you only cover partial flashbacks. Like key sentences or something from specific people that sort of define why the event sticks in the person's mind. They can be made to work anywhere as they're so short.

Or you could just write the scenes and the flashbacks and try various combinations to see what works best. ūü§Ē

But I don't think it matters how many you use so long as they bring something to the table, such as character development or plot progression.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Flashbacks are a tough row to hoe. They scream I AM TELLING YOU THIS, and not showing it, because as the author, I don't know how to convey this information in any other way. 

So for a literary point of emphasis, for a break in the flow, for drama or suspense or shock -- a flashback might then serve a different purpose. But simply for the fact that the author can't present an info dump in another way?

Not so good.¬†‚̧ūü¶Üūüėłūüźį‚̧

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Generally speaking, Flashbacks aren't received well in the Royal Road Community and Reader-base. I've seen quite many fictions lose a lot of readers because they had too many flashbacks or perhaps because they were too long. But there is a solution to that, more or less, and that is using Interludes / Chapters that are separate from the main storyline. Sprinkle in an interlude every 5 or 10 chapters and make it a habit. Your readers, too, will get used to the occasional interludes much like what Iron Teeth did. The Interludes weren't related to the MC and Co. , but it shows more of the world and how it operates, making it quite an interesting read.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

I'm not actually sure what you mean by flashbacks.  If you mean a sudden involuntary memory by a character, then those should be exceptionally sparing.

If instead you mean a few paragraphs or chapters dedicated to a scene in the far past that is somehow plot or character relevant, and is presented solely to the audience, not the characters, then by all means, yes. The Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks was almost 50% flashbacks and is considered one of his greatest works.  

I also have a concept for a fiction, that I think will work well, where every chapter begins with a short segment of the protagonist's deep past, and is used to illustrate some aspect of her character.  I think this is necessary because within the main plot, the protagonist is old and has been through all kinds of adventures that have deeply shaped her.  But because of that, it's hard to convey significant aspects of her character to the reader as she's not some plucky teenager or 20-something that is all coming of age / character development.  That's all happened in the past and her character development is far, far slower now. 

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

I do not mind reading about something a character remembers, but IRL memories does not tend to structure itself as neatly narrated story about what happened over the course of a childhood. If the scene is structured in the way a person might actually experience a memory, then, fine. 

And actual IRL flashbacks tend to be trauma-related. That sort of flashback can add a lot to a narrative. 

Some are ok, but not too much. Some books pull them off very well because they're structured around the idea of a twisted time-line being revealed in bits and pieces, but generally speaking, I'm not the biggest fan. 

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Like so many things, I feel like the answer is: Whatever your story needs.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, though. Flashbacks will slow a story down. This is true whether they are distant past flashbacks or intrusive memory flashbacks. They are most effective as short bursts in a slower scene, one where reminiscing is appropriate. In the middle of a fight? Your character doesn't have time to remember the last fight she was in as fists are flying. Space ship is about to blow? She might have flashes of the last time the ship was about to blow as her heart pounds in her chest (a quick, choppy sentence to call back to that time) but she isn't going to mull over the exact color of white the engine turned as the explosion began in earnest.

I actually like flashbacks when they fit seamlessly into the prose, and I like to use them to build up atmosphere, tension, character, and emotion. When I am reading, it's easy to see how they can go wrong. I find the best place for them is in the internal monologue, wherever that sits (sometimes that is in the middle of a conversation, but it's, specifically, a drawn out conversation that's plodding along instead of clipping along).

If you're flashing back to the distant past, it's best to do it in a predictable and consistent manner so readers know what to expect. It can be pretty jarring to be walking along in the present for ten chapters and suddenly read a chapter or two that takes place two hundred years ago in a world that's different than the one we recognize and characters who aren't the same as the ones we've grown to love. When a reader suddenly feels disconnected, they stop reading the story.

As for flashing back to something that happened previously in the story? You can generally just mention it happened without going into details and people will remember. That's one of those situations where telling is perfectly acceptable. We don't need to be shown.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

Personally, I hate flashbacks. On occasion, in some stories, they work, but only if the story's been built for them -- I consider them to be something of an advanced tool too often wielded by people who can't pull them off. They're more tolerable with an in-story framing device -- dreaming of the past, or explaining the past to someone else, or viewing a recording of the past, are good ways to include a "flashback" without having to jump in time (although I think 'traumatic dream of past events as flashback' is overdone and cheap), but even then, be careful.

On the occasions when moving back in time works, in my opinion, it's usually because the entire narrative of the story has been built around it, and the story itself is being told out of order. Some stories jump back and forth between two chunks of time, such as interspersing scenes of an event with scenes of its aftermath, and this can work well when handled carefully, but it must be organised and it must be consistent. A random flashback or two in a story, just to add a scene that the author didn't want to include until now For Drama Purposes, usually feels clumsy and cheap, in my opinion.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

In general I agree with the "less is more" mentality when it comes to flashbacks. It however also depends on what the flashback is about, what your story is about, how your story is structured and so on and so forth. 

If we're talking about your general purpose flashback that inserts some lore or background information, I'm just not a big fan. It tends to interrupt the flow and pacing of the story. Flashbacks during conversations are a big no-go for me as well -- pretty much always. Things like that completely ruin my immersion in a conversation. What I picture in my mind if something like that happens, is the guy just standing there staring into nothingness while having his flashback. Meanwhile the conversation partner just stands there, waiting. And I think we can all agree that's not something you want.
If you do a general purpose flashback, do them when the conversation has ended. As for the length, preferably as short as possible. An entire chapter of flashback is just (way) too long.

There are some exceptions to all this though. For example if your character has memory issues and flashback are truly part of the story. Or if a character is telling a specific story in flashback. And I have no doubt there are other situations which would make it acceptable. As long as the flashback is weaved into the plot and characters properly, it's fine. Practice however teaches us that this is harder than it seems.

Re: Flashbacks (How many and When)

I used to be a screenwriter and I used Flashbacks like crazy, until enough reader feedback finally beat it out of me. Some people here say to use them sparingly, which is good advice. I'd personally take it one step further and say avoid using them. Period.

There are exceptions to that rule of course, but I've personally found my writing is much stronger when I keep my plot in the present. Flashbacks kill momentum. Readers are generally more interested in what is going to happen, and not what has already happened.

Take my advice with a grain of salt of course, and choose a style that works best for you. But after like, ten screenplays, that's one of the best (and hardest) lessons I've learned.