I’m going to keep it simple tonight, if that’s okay. Jumping right in, F is for FLASHBACK.
A few years ago I entered a contest. The story was set one-hundred years in the future which required the use of flashbacks to narrate the story.
Through practice and reading I have discovered several ways to write an effective flashback.
The first is to utilize a physical element to “cue” the flashback. In my contest entry ANNIVERSARY, I opened the story with the couple returning to the house they’d occupied when they were first married a hundred years prior. I utilized the wafting dirt of the tarp-covered furniture to distinguish the present from the flashback.
I walked over to the staircase, resting my hand on the banister, leaving the imprint of my palm in the dust. In the distance I heard several cars pull into the driveway followed by the remote hum of familiar voices.
“I’ll be upstairs,” I said in a tone no louder than that used in casual conversation.
As the heroine walks through the rooms, the dust clears, transporting her back to the time they first lived in the house.
Another prominent method used to cite a flashback is the use of italics; the visual change in font acting as a mark in the shift of time. Entire scenes can be written this way and still play into the progression of your story.
In addition to the physical cues or font emphasis, you can use speech and language to help transition the reader as well. This works especially well if your story bridges from the distant past to the modern present. Say for example that your flashback takes place in the Elizabethan Era. Old-English phrases and dialogue would reinforce that the story has moved into another place and time.
One last technique that works well is a strategic change in tense. To cite a mainstream example, in Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES the entire story is written in present tense, first person narrative (i.e. I see, I walk etc.). When engaging in a flashback the author shifts the tense from present to past (i.e. I saw, I’d walked), signifying that the events being recalled had already occurred. This is a cool way to put a slant on the past, underscoring it as a flashback.
I hope these tips are helpful and stay tuned for more letters! Tomorrow G is for GENRE.