Dear Auntie Romaniac – Flashbacks, yes or no?

Dear Auntie Romaniac


I don’t know whether to use flashbacks in my novel or not. My main character has a lot of back story which is relevant to the story I’m telling now.

Do you think I should tell this in flashbacks or should I use a different technique, such as, diary entries or dual time line?  Or is there a better way to deal with a heavy back story?


Catherine: I think flashbacks are okay to use as long as they don’t jar the storyline, serve a purpose, and keep the reader interested. I’ve just finished Julie Cohen’s Where Love Lies and there is some flashback in there, but it’s serves the plot well and is done smoothly. It’s important to the story as it explores memory and perception amongst other things. I think the rules that I’d have would be not too much, not too soon and not if it doesn’t have a purpose.

 Laura: I agree with Catherine. Not too much and not too soon, unless the character is experiencing physical flashbacks. The past can be revealed through dialogue, which is a form of showing, or through the characters internal voice. I do recall being taught to make the lead into and out of the flashbacks clear to the reader. Having said all that, I like both your ideas, Sue, and can see them working.

Lucie: I will echo what the girls are saying, especially not overusing it. I use a flashback in Fractured Love, but only the once. I think if you use it too much, it will most definitely jar the flow of the story and not achieve the intended purpose. I think there are some stories that need it and some that don’t. You need to look at the story both with it and without and explore whether it is the best means of communication for that part. I do love a good flashback, though, it can add depth and mystery to a story if done properly. Good luck, Sue! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Dear Auntie Romaniac – Flashbacks, yes or no?

  1. It’s an ongoing debate, isn’t it? My mentor, the late Margaret McKinlay, hated them, but like all pupils I’m moving on and do use them. As everyone seems to agree, though – sparingly and not too soon. anne stenhouse

  2. I confess that I’m not a big fan of flashbacks in general, although they can work if done well. If there’s a need for too many in order to explain a back story, however, it makes me wonder whether the writer is entering the story at the right point to begin with. Think of the opening pages of Wolf Hall… Mantel starts with Cromwell as a boy, but jumps through to his adulthood within about a chapter, without the need to insert flashbacks later to explain the nature of his upbringing etc. That’s an excellent example of including back story up front. Having said that, she does insert kind of flashbacks later, in the form of stories recounted or first person pov memories, which work well. But I agree with everyone who says use them sparingly.

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