How to Write a Flashback

Do you want to add excitement, intrigue, and curiosity? Learn how flashbacks can help propel your story into the stratosphere.
Table of Contents

When it comes to writing fiction, flashback scenes can be tricky. But they are also a powerful tool that can help you engage your readers and add depth to your story.

In this article, we will discuss what flashbacks are and how to write them effectively. We'll also provide some tips and tricks to make sure your flashback scenes are smooth and seamless. So if you're looking to add some intrigue and complexity to your story, read on!

What is a flashback?

A flashback is simply a scene or series of scenes that portray a past event. They can be used to reveal key information about a character's past, shed light on the current situation, or add suspense and tension to the story.

Flashbacks can be written in various ways, but it's important to make sure they serve a purpose and add value to the story. Otherwise, they will feel like filler and will only serve to confuse your readers.

Types of flashbacks

There are three main types of flashbacks: direct flashbacks, indirect flashbacks, and dream sequences.

Direct flashbacks

Direct flashbacks are when the narrator directly tells the audience or another character what happened in the past. This is the most straightforward type of flashback, but it can also be the most boring if not done well.

Indirect flashbacks

Indirect flashbacks are when a past event is shown through dialogue, description, or action. This is a more subtle way to flashback and can be more effective in drawing readers into the story.

Dream sequences

Dream sequences are when a character dreams about something that happened in the past. These can be effective in revealing key information about a character's psyche or motivations.

How do you write a flashback scene?

Now that we know what flashbacks are and the different types of flashback scenes, let's discuss how to write them effectively.

The first step is to decide why you want to include a flashback scene in your story. What purpose does it serve? Once you know the answer to that, you can start planning out your scene.

If you're writing a direct flashback, make sure the information you're providing is relevant and interesting. Don't just include a flashback for the sake of including one.

If you're writing an indirect flashback, be careful not to give away too much information at once. The point of an indirect flashback is to slowly reveal information and piece together the puzzle for your readers.

And finally, if you're writing a dream sequence, make sure it's clear that what the character is experiencing is a dream. Otherwise, your readers will be confused and may not even realize they're reading a flashback scene.

Rules for writing flashbacks

Now that we've gone over the basics of flashback scenes, let's discuss some rules to keep in mind when writing them.

1. Don't flashback too early in the story

If you flashback too early, readers won't have the necessary information to understand what's going on. They'll be lost and may not even want to continue reading. You need to take some time to get to know a character before you create a flashback scene for them.

You want your readers to be invested in the story before you start flashbacking. Otherwise, it'll just feel like a history lesson.

2. Write flashbacks that are interesting

Action is key in flashback scenes–you want your readers to feel like they're right there with the characters, experiencing everything firsthand.

The best way to do this is to use active verbs and sensory details. Transport your readers back in time and make them feel like they're part of the scene.

3. Earn your flashbacks

You should only include flashback scenes if they're absolutely necessary. If a flashback doesn't further the plot or provide any new information, then it's not worth including.

Every scene in your story should have a purpose. If a flashback scene doesn't serve that purpose, then it needs to be cut.

4. Use the flashback sparingly

Flashbacks can be a great way to provide information about a character or further the plot, but they should be used sparingly. You don't want your story to feel like one big flashback scene.

If you find that you're including too many flashback scenes, try to find another way to provide the same information. Perhaps there's another scene you can include that doesn't involve a flashback.

5. Keep the flashback brief

A flashback scene should be just long enough to provide the necessary information. You don't want to include too much detail or go on for too long, as that will bore your readers.

Remember, less is more when it comes to flashback scenes. Just include what's absolutely essential and then move on.

Do I have to use past tense when writing flashbacks?

Yes, flashbacks should always be in past tense. This is because they're scenes that have already happened and are being recalled by the character.

If you use present tense, it'll just confuse your readers and make the flashback scene feel out of place.

Past perfect tense can also be used in flashback scenes. This is when you use "had" before the verb. For example: "I had gone to the store."

The reason some writers choose to use past perfect tense is that it can create a sense of distance between the character and the event they're recalling.

This can be effective if you want to show that the character has moved on from what happened or if they're struggling to come to terms with it.

How do you write a flashback in a flashback?

If you're writing a flashback within a flashback, make sure to indicate this to your readers.

You can use nesting dolls to show the different levels of flashback. For example, you could start with regular text for the outermost flashback, then use italics for the next level down, and so on.

Just make sure your readers know what's going on–you don't want them to get lost in all the flashbacks!

Examples of flashbacks

Below are a few flashback examples from popular books and movies. Notice how each one is different and how the flashback scene is used to further the story.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

In this movie, we see a flashback scene of Luke Skywalker training his nephew, Ben Solo. This is a direct flashback because Luke is narrating this past event as an explanation to Rey about the origin of Kylo Ren. This sheds light on Kylo Ren, Rey's antagonist, and sets up the reasoning for Luke's current outlook on the Force.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers starts with a high-energy flashback scene of Gandalf falling down a chasm while fighting the Balrog. This is portrayed as a fever dream for Frodo and serves as a dream sequence and a pseudo-prologue.


Flashbacks are great ways of showing a character's life story and adding depth to your story by bringing past events to life. But it's important to use them sparingly and make sure they're well-written.

By following the tips in this article, you'll be able to write flashback scenes that will grip your readers and leave them wanting more.

No items found.
No items found.
You Might Like These
No items found.
See more Tools + Resources
Kevin Barrett Profile picture
Kevin from StoryFlint

Hello friends! I'm Kevin, the creator of StoryFlint.

I love the science of storytelling and learning how to create compelling characters, plots, themes and worlds.

I'm here to help you organize and visualize your story to make it the best it can be!

More about me
No items found.

You Might Like This

No items found.
View All Notion Templates

Keep Reading

What Makes a Good Prologue for a Story? Tips and Ideas!

Wondering how you should start your novel or story? Here are some ideas on what makes an effective opener.

What Is the Climax of a Story? The Definition and Examples

Do you know what the climax of your story is? Learn more about this important part of storytelling.

Understanding Omniscient Third-Person Point of View: 9 Things You Should Know

Want to write in an omniscient third-person point of view? This article will teach you everything you need to know, including what it is, the benefits, and how to use it effectively.

No items found.