How to write a flashback in a novel

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Danny1980
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How to write a flashback in a novel

Postby Danny1980 » Mon Aug 01, 2016 9:24 am

Hello

First of all, thanks for all your help and time!

I want to ask how to write a flashback in a novel. I'm adapting a script, written by me, some years ago. (I am a rookie)

Part of script is the following:

Ted observes an old woman asking for the time from a young blonde and skinny girl. At that moment Ted is frozen for a few seconds. His mind triggers a flashback.

BEGIN FLASHBACK:

EXT. ASTER STREET, DOWNTOWN – DAY (1988)
Ted, 16 years, walks on the streets near his home. Suddenly he looks an attractive YOUNG GIRL, black hair, and thin.

TED
Hello… Could you tell me, what time is it?



So, I have written in present tense this part of the novel (*)

He observes an old woman asking for the time from a young blonde and skinny girl. At that moment Ted is frozen for a few seconds. His mind triggers a flashback, sending him, to 1988

Ted, a boy of sixteen at that time, walks the streets near the home of his parents. Suddenly he looks an attractive young and thin girl with a beautiful black hair. Despite his shyness, he comes close to her.


'Hello… Could you tell me, what time it is?', Ted asked.




Thanks for your help!
Last edited by Danny1980 on Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

G.E.Plum
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Re: How to write a flashback in a novel

Postby G.E.Plum » Tue Aug 02, 2016 12:48 am

I know how I've done it, but I can't just come up with something off the top of my head. Can you post the present-day scene from your novel and we can see if we can segue into the flashback? If that's permitted here, I'd be willing to look at it.

I'm no expert, I'm just a writer.

Danny1980
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Re: How to write a flashback in a novel

Postby Danny1980 » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:46 am

Dear G.E. Plum:

Thanks for your answer. The present-day scene is the following:


EXT. ASTER STREET, DOWNTOWN – DAY
The street is full of people. KELLY walks with TED.


KELLY
My name is Kelly. I am from Louisiana. What is your name?


TED
My name is Ted.


KELLY
Have you lived all your life in Indigo?


TED
Yes, born and raised in Indigo. I lived in Oklahoma between 2007 and
2011 because I was working at…



TED observes an old woman asking for the time from a young blonde and skinny girl. TED is frozen for a few seconds. His mind triggers a flashback.


BEGIN FLASHBACK:

EXT. ASTER STREET, DOWNTOWN – DAY (1987)
Ted, 16 years, walks on the streets near his home. Suddenly he looks an attractive YOUNG GIRL, black hair, and thin.



TED
Hello!… Could you tell me what time it is?




The girl watches Ted for a few of seconds, and points out to the clock of the church with her index finger.



YOUNG GIRL

See that clock in the church? You can see the time there, it is a really biiiig
clock…


After the bad experience, TED decides to walk downtown and play some coins at the video arcades.


END FLASHBACK.


EXT. SUOMON STREET – DAY
TED is standing in front of the traffic light, astonished and speechless. Suddenly KELLY grabs his arm.

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cynicalwanderer
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Re: How to write a flashback in a novel

Postby cynicalwanderer » Tue Aug 02, 2016 5:48 pm

Personally I classify flashbacks as either:

1) A brief interjection which is just a short aside from the "now" narrative, to either show a memory or make a connection. This can sometimes make use of past tense to set the transition off, and then you go on from there, until you're ready to jump back to the present
2) An entire scene set in the past to which you transition to from the "now" scene, and then proceed to tell in the same tense as if that had become the "new now". Same techniques for the transition

I guess the first is what you're interested in here, given your example. So your example could read something like:

Across the street, Ted saw an old woman asking for the time from a young blonde girl. He froze, remembering. He'd been sixteen, walking down this same street, when he'd asked another girl for the time. She'd been young and attractive too, thin and with black hair. "Hello! Could you tell me what time it is?" he'd asked. She'd studied him for a few seconds, and then pointed out the church clock with her index finger. "See that clock on the church? You can see the time there, it's a really biiiig clock…" Back then he'd escaped downtown to the video arcades to work off his embarrassment, and now, nearly forty years later, his cheeks reddened again with the memory of it.


Obviously you'd write it your own way, but take note of the transition points:

Transition in: He froze, remembering. He'd been sixteen...

You don't always need to signpost the start of a flashback or memory so obviously, so you could easily cut that first line out. But it can be helpful to use them while you're learning. Also note the "he'd been" - and all the other "he'd" and "she'd" usages - that keep this brief section grounded in the past tense. If you were doing a longer flashback, you'd stop using these after a few sentences once the transition has stuck and just switch to present again until you go back. But here, it's short enough that you can get away with using past for the duration. Basically use them only as long as you need so that the reader doesn't get confused about the fact that you've transitioned to a flashback.

Transition out: , and now, nearly forty years later, his cheeks reddened again with the memory of it.

I like sticking a "now" somewhere in the shift back, or a time reference, and this has both. It also re-emphasises that a memory was being accessed, which again is possibly overkill but can be effective signposting at times. In a longer piece you'd start using the past tense "he'd" again a few sentences before the shift back, to get the reader ready for it.

Hope some of that helps.
"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.


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