This is the penultimate post of the 2013 A to Z Challenge. After this, just one more to go!

Yesterdays is the title of the post and I’m talking about flashbacks.

One school of thought is that you should never start your novel with a flashback. I’ve read this in a number of places recently (including from Linda over at My Corner of the World)Β though a couple of good books I’ve read started with a flashback and they were both cracking reads. Like all the rules, they can be broken if you do it well.

I like to think of my flashbacks in two forms.

  1. You have your daydream. Your character whilst doing one thing, thinking back to an earlier time and/or place.
  2. Full cinematic flashback. A scene in its own right to help set the context within your story.

When I started writing I Can See You, my police procedural, the flashback was firmly in my mind as I started the planning. Two of the first scenes mapped out were flashbacks sowing the seed for one of the back stories of the novel. I like to use the power they can have as they transport you back to the time and place you want your reader to visit.

I don’t want too much of the narrative to be in flashback form. Β A few scenes and maybe only 10 pages are devoted to them in my WIP, but without them, I don’t think the story flows properly. I think of the flashback as my friend. πŸ™‚

Television and Film can make excellent use of flashbacks. Lost fans probably SCREAM at the thought of flashbacks, but they can serve as a valuable tool in your writing arsenal.

So, when you are writing about your character and what they are doing today and tomorrow, don’t forget the tool that is writing about their yesterdays.

Do you make use of Flashbacks in your stories? Or, avoid them like the plague?



This is myΒ YΒ post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. A list of all my A to Z Blogging Challenge posts are to be foundΒ here.

Today’s pictures are from my 1990 trip to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is one of those places where I could have stayed for the rest of my life and been happy. I could cope with living there and never setting foot outside its perimeter. Enjoy!


Yosemite 2

Yosemite 3


About Pete Denton

I'm a writer working my way through the redrafts of a British crime novel. I also write short stories, flash fiction and some screen writing. Check out my blog for more.
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35 Responses to Yesterdays

  1. jtailele says:

    Y is for Yes. I broke the rule by opening my debut novel with a flashback. Maybe that was the kiss of death because it hasn’t done very well. Like you, I felt it was an important part of the story but it didn’t need a full chapter. Just one paragraph made all the difference. I guess I am not very good at following the rules.

    • Pete Denton says:

      I’ve never picked up a book and thought, it starts with a flashback so I’ll not bother. If it’s only a paragraph or so then I don’t think it matters. Who needs rules? πŸ™‚

  2. Linda Govik says:

    Haha yes, I do tend to avoid the flashbacks… perhaps just as much because I don’t know how to make it elegant, as it is because I’m not fond of it πŸ˜€
    I do agree with you, however: if you do know the rules, you can always break them – and it will still look stylish πŸ™‚
    One day left now, A – Z comrade! Done great so far!

  3. I do use flashbacks in my work. They’re useful to explain why a character is acting the way they are. My first drafts tend to have more flashbacks than necessary because I am still learning about the characters. Later drafts have less flashbacks.
    The photos are beautiful. We are heading out to Yosemite later this year. I can’t wait!

    • Pete Denton says:

      Good point. I think my flashbacks are scaled back a bit in the subsequent drafts, which is probably a good thing.

      I’m jealous! Enjoy Yosemite πŸ™‚

  4. katemsparkes says:

    Wow, those photos are incredible! I think I have a new addition to my “places to visit” list.

    Also, thank you for getting the Beatles stuck in my head. Really. Far better than whatever pop earworm would have been in there otherwise. πŸ™‚

    I try to avoid flashbacks in my writing; I prefer to work backstory in a little at a time, through dialogue or brief explanation (it remains to be seen whether I’m successful with this). That said, I’ve considered using them before, and I don’t think they detract from a story at all if they’re done properly. I can’t remember a time when I’ve read a book that started with a flashback (a prologue occurring in a character’s childhood, yes, but not as a part of the main narrative). It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me, but it definitely needs to be handled carefully. It’s kind of like starting with a dream, isn’t it? They say never do it, and that it’ll earn you an automatic rejection from agents, editors, and many readers, but it can be done well. Never say never!

    • Pete Denton says:

      I definitely recommend this is a place to visit. Sorry for putting the Beatles track in your head. πŸ™‚

      I agree about trying to working back story and details in little bits of narrative. I think that’s always a good way to go. πŸ™‚

  5. I haven’t used flashbacks in my books but I don’t mind reading them. Usually they had to the depth of character and story.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Susan. I know when I use flashbacks, they’ve been to add more depth to the background story. I think there is a place for them when required. πŸ™‚

  6. jadereyner says:

    Well done on getting nearly to the end of the challenge. I have loved all of your posts. I haven’t used flashbacks, I’ve used a brief prologue of a future event and then followed the story previous and up to that point. I have no problem with flashbacks, as long as it is clear that that’s what it is, otherwise I can end up a bit confused.!

  7. Jemima Pett says:

    I think flashbacks may have been overdone, so it’s hard to use them well. It sounds like you have the perfect recipe, though.

    Yosemite! I was there a year before you. Haven’t got such good photos though, and would have loved to have stayed longer – it’s a long story (maybe it’ll make it into a book one day!)

    Hope you’ve enjoyed your A to Z-ing and thanks for all your support

    Jemima at Jemima’s blog

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Jemima. πŸ™‚

      This A to Z challenge has certainly been a great experience. I think any book with Yosemite as the background has to be great. πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Pete, I think I use flashbacks but I’ve never been overly aware of them. Sometimes quite naturally in a narrative a character will think back to another time and place, and I’d struggle to do without this. Lots of books contain huge segments of flashback but I think if it’s done well you hardly notice.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Joanne. I agree that when flashbacks are used subtly in the narrative you don’t notice them. When they are scenes in their own right I think they possibly have more impact and definitely more noticeable.

  9. Noelle says:

    A flashback as prologue was an afterthought when I finished my first book, but deciding to write one after the book was finished ended up being a good decision. It helped to explain one of the lasting questions at the end, if that makes sense.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Good idea to write it after you finish the draft. That’s the beauty of the editing process that allows you to have the power to do what you want when you want. After you finish writing the story, makes sense to tie-up loose ends. πŸ™‚

  10. internetreviewofbooks says:

    I’ve been to Yosemite once, and I’d flash back to there in a heartbeat. Seriously, I do use flashbacks. My novel Little Mountain relies heavily on them.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks for your comments. I love to go back to Yosemite again someday. It was fantastic. Good to hear someone else championing the use of flashbacks. πŸ™‚

  11. Mart Dawson says:

    stunning pics. I have alwayys wanted to go there.

  12. ocdreader says:

    Gorgeous pics!! I always go up to the mammoth area but haven’t spent as much time in yosemite as I would like.
    I like the flashback and flashforward first chapter. Clive Cussler flashed hundreds of years back in many of his books and a lot of the YA I have been reading have employed the tense future scene with just enough information to make it sound like the lead character is going to die any second…some have done it better than others. πŸ™‚
    Great post! Great job on the A to Z! I am super happy we are nearing the end though!

  13. Nick Wilford says:

    Flashbacks can be good for explaining why a character is a certain way, like everything else they need to be there for a reason. They can definitely be overdone, but on the other hand I recently read a book where pretty much half the story was told in flashback and it worked really well, so I guess it’s all in the telling!

  14. EllaDee says:

    As a reader, i’ve not thought of flashbacks as being detrimental… I’m sophisticated enough to think I can manage to grasp it!
    I visited Yosemite in 2000. It was a hell of a day – bus, train, bus from & to San Fran but well worth it… I wanted to jump “ship”, stay in a cabin for a week and explore. Definitely on my I’d go back list πŸ™‚

    • Pete Denton says:

      I would love to go back to Yosemite as well. The few hours we spent there was definitely not enough.

      I agree about flashbacks. I was surprised to read they were frowned upon. Why? They are one of the many tools available to writers to tell a story. So long as they are done properly, then I don’t see a problem with them.

  15. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Gorgeous shots of Yosemite. πŸ™‚ I am a huge fan of flashbacks done right. I use them often in The Six Train to Wisconsin, but it was very organic to the story. I felt it was necessary. We’ll see what readers think.

    • Pete Denton says:

      I would love to go back to Yosemite. Such a great place to visit.

      I agree, I like flashbacks when they are necessary and bring more depth to the story. πŸ™‚

      • Kourtney Heintz says:

        I think all the writing rules are great guidelines for beginners. But when you progress with the craft, you learn why they exist and how to play with them. πŸ™‚

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