Flashbacks are such an important element of storytelling. They are crucial to character development and plot. Flashbacks can add depth of character by relating who they used to be, and showing the reader how they came to be the way they are. They can enhance your plot by adding meaningful and important events essential to the story.
How you start and end your flashbacks can make your novel smooth and seamless or awkward and abrupt.
So let’s look at several way to start flash backs and several ways to end flashbacks that will help you create smooth and unobtrusive transitions between flashback and present story.
How to Start and End Flashbacks Like a Published Author
How to START Flashbacks
Start Flashbacks with a Familiar Situation
If you want to flash back to an awkward first date, put your character on a first date. Or maybe you want your character to remember their first time on a bike. Have them go on a bike ride.
If the character’s current situation is familiar to one you want to flash back to, it will be much easier to transition into the flashback. You will already have introduced the general event.
Start Flashbacks with the Sensory Detail (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste)
Maybe your character sees a child playing catch with his dad, and your character remembers playing catch with his dad before their relationship deteriorated. Or, have your character smell a rose and remember all the walks through the rose garden he went on with his mother before she died. Does the feel of the rain on your character’s face remind them of the time they searched for their lost puppy in an epic thunderstorm? Or perhaps they hear a clasp of thunder and remember that terrible night. If you want taste to trigger a flashback, perhaps your character eats a burnt apple pie and yearns for the way her grandmother could bake the crust to a golden brown.
Of course you will have different memories you want to flash back to, but hopefully the above scenarios help you see how you can use the senses to trigger flashbacks in your writing. Using the senses can be a powerful way to start a flashback and provide important sensory detail.
Start Flashbacks with a New Chapter
If you think a flashback fits best at a certain point in your story but a similar situation or use of the senses isn’t helping you start the flashback, consider starting a new chapter. A new chapter signals to the reader that part of the story is ending and another part is beginning. Why can’t that be a flashback? A new chapter can be a useful tool in starting flashbacks.
To end the flashback, simply end the chapter, or try out one of the following methods for ending flashbacks.
How to END Flashbacks
End Flashbacks with Sensory Detail
This can be useful whether or not you started the flashback with sensory detail. Regardless of what triggered the flashback, have it end with something like a cell phone ringing, or the smell of burning lasagna. Maybe they see an old friend or run into a pole. They could (almost) drink a little paint instead of drinking from their water bottle. Have something in the present story jar the character out of their reverie.
End Flashbacks with the Character
Having the character pull themselves out of the flashback can be a good way to end a flashback. Maybe they shudder at the thought and decide to stop thinking about it. Or, if it’s a happy memory they can sigh with contentment as they return to the present story. That sounds super cheesy, but you get the idea right? Hopefully you can come up with something better! 😉
End Flashbacks with Tense Changes
If you are writing in present tense, your flashbacks will likely be in past tense. Switching back to present tense will tell the reader that the flashback has ended. But even if you are writing in past tense, you can use tense to signal the end of a flashback. Consider using the past perfect tense. End the flashback by saying that something “had” been done or “had” happened. You can do this throughout the flashback, but if you don’t want to be wordy you don’t have to use it every single time. Just go with what sounds right. But using it at least at the very end will tell your reader that once you switch back to past tense you are ending the flashback.
How do you start and end flashbacks?
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