Flashing information

Whilst the length of a flashback varies considerably from one short phrase to a complete chapter, the technique works best if you simply 'flash' to a significant incident in the past, then bring your character straight back to the present as soon as you have imparted the relevant information.

For example, if the reader is to understand why our TV presenter, Sally Blake, behaves in a certain way, we need to give them a few hints about the background to the story. The flashbacks in the following scene are marked in italics:

'I'm sorry Mark,' Sally fought back the tears which threatened to overwhelm her resolve, 'It's over. I'mleaving you. I shouldn't have believed your lies about leaving your wife and children.'

Hugging her knees to her chin, she rocked childishly to and fro for comfort, waiting in vain for his response, 'Did you hear what I said?'

Sally felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as she unclasped her legs and lifted her head to meet his furious gaze. The last time he 'd used that tone, the violence that had followed had landed her in hospital. Furtively, she slid sideways across the bed, increasing the distance between them.

Flashbacks should provide a series of revelations about the characters which give just enough information to keep the reader wanting to know more but at the same time, reveal something the reader didn't know before.

In the above example, the first flashback informs us that Mark is a married man, the second that he is violent. From these two snippets of information, we know the background to their relationship and can predict a negative reaction to Sally's desire to end it.

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