Flashbacks: What's the proper way in handling them?

Sooo, I’m kind of torn on how exactly to write a flashback for my WIP. I don’t know whether if its okay to switch tenses or have it italicized to make it clear that it’s a different person speaking. I know it’s going to be long. Spanning multiple pages and whatnot…

You know what.

I just need some advise. Writing down your experiences with them would help me a lot, if anyone wants to I mean.


Here is an article about writing flashbacks I found to be helpful.


One question to add, as we’re dealing with CYOA here:

Is there any info in the flashback that shines a whole new light on a previous decision?

Author- player- and character-knowledge are three different things, and imho it’s unfair to, for example, ask the reader what they think about a new char, to THEN reveal what an a-hole that char is via a flashback.
Meaning the character knew while the player did not.


I’ve been kind of building up this character to being not what she says she is. The MC is finally at the point where they confront this character about her past.


Firstly, one must be conscious of the tense in which the core narrative is written. Though there is no definitive “rule of thumb” regarding your inquiry, the general consensus is that you remain consistent to whichever method you choose. If your story is primarily written in past continuous tense, you may elect to write the flashback in past perfect tense. However, this can be cumbersome to the reader and the writer. As an alternative, you could use transitional text to shift between tenses. With this method, you must remember to “shift out” of the flashback in the same manner in which you “shift into” the flashback. If your story is written in simple present tense (which I suspect is the reason for your inquiry), past continuous tense may be the best option for your flashback. If your story requires the reader to play through the past as though it were the present, or if you need to relay dialogue conversationally (rather than retrospectively), consider using a writing scheme as a vehicle. Diary logs, videos, voice recordings, etc., have commonly been used to achieve this effect. I use several techniques in my WIP, if you seek examples.

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In The Magician’s Burden, and in my WIP, Mass Mother Murderer, there are some extensive flashbacks, and I don’t change the tense or use italics or anything. I just put “____ years/months/days/etc ago” and then put “Present day” once the flash back is over.


Past continuous tense?

“I was walking down the street. I was seeing the target. I was recalling his name to be John. I was talking to John.”


Same with using past perfect. It’s fine for a brief stint but for a whole chapter or even more than a few paragraphs? Whoooooooooooof.

Honestly the best way the way that gives me the least personal pain is to indicate that the flashback occurs further back in the past and then use the same tense you’ve been using all along. Major headache avoided.


Obviously, the best way (and the safest) is

"... fifteen years ago..."
*page_break Flashback

Well, consider the entire premise and essence of “a flashback”. What constitutes it? It can easily be described as a sudden, unexpected upheaval of the mental sense, everything that you could closely relate in life to being perception. This is the key element her: perception. That’s basically what makes up a flashback. When you think of a flashback, do you not imagine someone just doing their own thing in reality when, all of a sudden, their head might pop up a little, the eyes freeze and slightly glaze over, the mouth might be hanging open a little, and the whole POV just shifts right into their mindscape. Following that, you would expect to see a near-perfect quality replay, like a video, of some past event in their life, as if it was just happening.
Here’s where it gets interesting. You, as the story teller, have a few options as how to present this in-game. At least, this is how I see it. You can set in so that the character having the flashback is also aware of the flashback DURING, as if he was a separate mental body sitting off to the side and watching the flashback like a movie, in which case he or she would most likely be commenting IN PAST TENSE. Another option is an obvious one: have the character witness the flashback as-if-in-the-moment and exit from it after it’s done, thus shifting first from present tense (in the flashback) to past tense. I don’t know whether you should do the whole italicizing, but so as long as there is a clear transition or lead-in from present story event to the start of the flashback, like “blah blah blah, as the memory beg(ins/an) rush back in/to the forefront of my mind.” or some shit like this. This is what I got. I think it’s an average amount.

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