Skip to main content

What is Flashback in a Story?

Flashbacks can play pivotal roles in any story, whether it be fiction, nonfiction or a script. So what is flashback in a story (and how is it different than backstory)? Find out here.

Flashbacks can play pivotal roles in any story, whether it be fiction, nonfiction or a script. So what is flashback in a story? Some folks confuse it with backstory, but the time constraints of a flashback don't allow us to share too many details. They just allow us to reveal tidbits.

Here's a great explanation of writing flashbacks and backstory offered up by Ron Rozelle in Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting:

A flashback is a sudden, brief relocation to a previous time and then, just as suddenly, a return to the present story. Flashbacks can hint at backstories, but they aren’t backstories themselves. A backstory is a longer trip (in fact, sometimes backstories make up most of a story or even a novel).

In a flashback, a character is usually reminded of something or someone from his past. The smell of cabbage cooking might cause him to see a kitchen that he hasn’t actually seen in years and years. Or you might have a character who looks over at his wife of 50 years and, in just the right light of a nice afternoon, sees her as the teenager he married.

Flashbacks come in handy when you need to infuse a clue or two into a mystery or when some character trait needs to be enhanced or explained. Let’s say you have a fellow in your story who doesn’t like dogs. Your reader wants to know why, so you lead her along for a while and then give her a nice little flashback, in which the man recalls being bitten by a dog as a child.

Flashbacks are quick. Backstories, because they drag in the baggage of a character or a situation, are longer.

Backstory, when layered effectively, can be a good way to establish setting and provide description. Diverting your readers’ attention away from the here and now allows you to focus on times and places that give deeper insight into a character or a situation.

There you have it. And now that you know, you can focus on and improve these intricate parts of your writing. Your stories and manuscripts will be that much better because of it.

wd-Brian-web-19.jpg

Follow me on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Read my parent humor blog: The Life Of Dad
Sign up for my free weekly eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

Your Story Writing Prompts

94 Your Story Writing Prompts

Due to popular demand, we've assembled all the Your Story writing prompts on WritersDigest.com in one post. Click the link to find each prompt, the winners, and more.

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

Historical fiction relies on research to help a story’s authenticity—but it can also lead to developments in the story itself. Here, author Lora Davies discusses how inspiration and research helped shape her new novel, The Widow’s Last Secret.

Poetic Forms

Saraband: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the saraband, a septet (or seven-line) form based on a forbidden dance.

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

Author Katherine Quevedo takes an analytical look at the creative process in hopes to help other writers find writing success.

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Award-winning author Nick Petrie discusses how he listened to the story that wanted to be told in his new Peter Ash thriller novel, The Runaway.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 596

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a punishment poem.