• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!


BJ Swabb

How do you all work in flashbacks of tour characters lives or events in your novels? What is a good way to enter one?


Myth Weaver
I don't know that I have actual flashbacks, like the character is in present faze and something shifts and we are suddenly in the past. Or, at least, its been a long while since I have.

I do have scenes that show past events, but they are full blown scenes.

One trick I did for this was the use of a less formal name for the MC. Like, the character might be named Melissa, but in the flash back, her parents call her Melli, or even little Melli, as a way to indicate.

I think, however, the trick to this is to have clear lines of delineation, and tells. A character can close their eyes and see black, and then there's a flash back. The reader knows this is the tell...it happens just about every time. Another way might be a very sharp and abrupt shift. We are a beach watching sea gulls, and then we are in a trench with bombs going off. That's a pretty strong shift.

I suppose another way to indicate is just with formatting...switching to italics, or leading in with punctuation...

Anyway, in my own stories, these are just scenes like any other. Not special theatrics. I don't think they add confusion, as I am usually pretty fast to add something clarifying, like a character name.


toujours gai, archie
Rather than try to speak in generalities--which always end up with some version of "it depends"--can you say what specific problem you're trying to address? Presumably you have a character and you want to present some background information about a person or event that happened before the story opens.


Myth Weaver
My 'Empire' series has flashbacks aplenty in different flavors.

Kyle is a burly peasant who was drafted into the imperial legions during the horrific Traag War. After a couple of years - and several ugly battles, his bosses learned he had magical talent, which got him rudimentary magical training. That landed him in even uglier battles, going toe to toe with demons and monsters. It also gave him what we'd term PTSD. He sees something, or somebody asks him a question, and in his mind, he is right back on the battlefield. On one occasion, a kid asked him about his scarred face - cue to the battle that gave him that scar. Another time, he sees a wizardly companion from the bad old days - and gets to relive another horrific episode. He tried to dull the memories with booze and eventually took to attending therapy of sorts.

Tia is Kyle's boss in the postwar world. She is the daughter of wealthy merchants hunting for highborn men willing to marry prosperous commoners. A traumatic episode in the first book combined with an odd encounter gives her strange dreams of prior incarnations. Those prior incarnations offer clues and warnings about her current circumstances.


I tried this do anything go anywhere method. I enjoyed writing it, and reading it. It appeared like an anecdote about life, in a strange setting. It was hard to not focus around one specific event, though I could see where the story was progressing easier than a linear example. It was a handout to myself, however I didn’t go there, it was never finished.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
We write flashbacks pretty much like I experience them. In flashes of dissonant memories and brief dissociation. We also use italics.

This is from Faerie Rising, our first in series. Winter has just suffered a catastrophic loss but has to keep going.


There were many stories of faerie wives returning to care for their children. But Tersa never had. She had only cared about Colin.

toppled in a boneless heap on the ground

“Are you coming?”

Winter jerked herself from the memory, sharp as a freshly broken bone.


toujours gai, archie
I haven't done flashbacks, but a couple of my stories had events in them that were crucial to the story but which took place prior to the story. In the first case, I actually wrote the scene, thinking it would be at or near the book's beginning. I eventually chose to start it later, but at least I had a fairly clear idea of what had happened and so could make references to the events. I had the character recall things. I had some soldiers (he was their commander) say what they had heard about it. And I had a friend talk in specific detail about aspects of the event. In short, I found it was actually more effective than a flashback would have been because what was important was the reaction of others to the event. What wasn't important was having the reader experience the event.

The same goes for this second case, which is in my WIP. I have a six-book series in hand, and there's a whole history with my characters before the first book begins. There are at least two crucial events that shape three of the main characters. Here again, I've found it effective to drop references, second-hard reports that may or may not be accurate, and internal reflections by the characters themselves. Much better than a flashback could manage.

But I do suggest you write the scene. If you use it as a flashback, fine. But if you don't, you'll still have a clear and specific idea of what happened, and will be able to make better use of the details whenever someone makes reference to the event.


Myth Weaver
I don't think I've done an actual flashback in novels, but I think I had one or two in screenplays. I do have, and will have more, head-game dream sequences that show altered versions of past events to mess with their sense of reality. Otherwise, I tend to keep things brief and restricted to simple recollections.

Mad Swede

I suffer flashbacks as a consequence of my PTSD. And I write about them in the way that I suffer them. In my bitter experience flashbacks are context dependent and are usually triggered by certain factors in my surroundings. So my advice, for what it's worth, is that you need a fairly detailed backstory for your characters. Only then can you make the flashback believable in the context of your story.

Joe McM

I included a flashback, as part of a character’s musing. This secondary character was searching for the main character and remembered when he first heard about the as yet unnamed main character.