Using flashbacks to your benefit.
Suspenseful flashbacks, anyone?
As a general rule, I dislike flashbacks, because many of them stall the plot instead of moving it forward and are just plain boring. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Tips to help you create more interesting flashbacks…
1. Leave the reader intrigued. Flashbacks work in your favor when you use them to create suspense. Instead of flat out explaining something happening in the present, make the present more interesting by giving hints about things that are currently effecting the main story, while leaving some things to be revealed later.
2. Don’t just backtrack to backtrack. Anything worthy of a flashback should develop into something bigger and more interesting during the course of the main story. If you can remove the flashback from the story, and the story itself still makes sense and is just as suspenseful, your flashback shouldn’t be in the story to begin with.
3. Emotions are your best friend. If the flashback doesn’t create an emotional response in the reader, then you’re just using a lot of extra words to describe something that could have been better revealed through an intimate conversation between two emotionally vulnerable characters.
4. Keep it short. The reader should be intrigued by the flashbacks, but they should still be thirsty to return to the present time. Don’t linger for so long that they become detached from what’s going on in the actual story.
5. Think outside the box. Characters experiencing their past through dreams or memories is a typical way to introduce flashbacks, but there are many other, more versatile methods. Break up the flashback into single pages or a few lines at the begin of chapters or book parts? Tell the memory from a side character’s POV? Compare it with the memories of an ancient historical figure who experienced the same thing? Consider the effect a variety of unique methods might have on the reader’s interpretation of the flashback before committing to the more common ways.
Please keep in mind that this is my singular opinion on what makes me personally enjoy a flashback. My opinion is not the opinion of every reader or writer in the known universe; for that matter it might only be the minority opinion.
The most important rule is to flashback the way you enjoy flashbacking, if you feel the need to flashback in the first place. Don’t let my opinion persuade you otherwise.