Potential Pitfalls: Flashbacks

Some techniques are riskier than others. After judging for a number of first chapter writing contests, I've come to the conclusion that one of the toughest to pull off is the flashback.

In skillful, experienced hands, flashbacks may work - and work well. But more often than not, especially in the hands of newer writers, flashbacks serve as stumbling blocks, distancing the reader from the now of the story before the reader's fully bonded with the characters and their present journey.

The writer's goal should be to immerse the audience in the story's real-time flow of events. Anything that detracts from that connection should be cut.

So how, without flashbacks, does the writer effectively dispense critical backstory? Ideally, crumb by crumb, dispensing teasing little hints - the kind that keep the reader madly turning pages as she seeks to piece together the totality. Dispensed a bit as a time, this trail of breadcrumbs enhances rather than detracts from the plot, heightens tension, and raises story questions instead of stomping them flat.

So the next time you're tempted to use a flashback, especially near your manuscript's beginning, ask yourself, could the story possibly be better off without it?


Anonymous said…
How true, Colleen...not always easy, but those crumbs are the secret!!!


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