A Conundrum of Sorts Regarding Flashbacks

by Christine
(Dallas, Texas, US)

Question: The theme of my story is how history is being reenacted, and I have this idea to tell the story in a sequence of present day and past scenes. The problem is, I'm not sure how often to make the switch, and...what I have so far is kind of confusing.


I suppose what I am trying to ask is this: How should I go about effectively telling a story that takes place between two time frames, yet keep dramatic tension?

Your reply will be much appreciated, thank you.

Answer: I would suggest you start by working out the dramatic arc of each story line separately - past and present - and make sure the dramatic tension is strong in both.

You might make a series of scene cards using 3"x5" index cards. On each card write a brief description of one event in your story. Use a separate colour of card for each storyline - past and present - and make sure all the events are included.

Next arrange the cards in order in two parallel lines, one for past and one for present. Read and revise each line separately to make sure each of the two story lines is dramatically sound on its own. Number the cards so you know the order in which each story unfolds. You might even write each story in full prose from beginning to end, if that makes sense to you.

The fun part is then the storyweaving process in which you braid the two rows of cards together into one sequence - telling a little of one story and then a little of the other. Bear in mind that, if the present line is told in chronological order, you don't have to tell the past line chronologically. It depends how quickly you want the reader to realize the parallels.

If you are using a 4-act structure, where each story line has a setup, complications, move to crisis, and resolution, it will be easy to create 8 sequences or groups of scenes (4 acts x 2 story lines = 8). The end of a sequence is a natural place for a switch.

Things get more complicated if you want to switch after every event/scene or chapter. You can still do it, but it will take a little more time to work out the entire sequence with the scene cards first.

Comments for A Conundrum of Sorts Regarding Flashbacks

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Mar 22, 2013
Thank you for your advice!
by: Christine

I had been trying to write one big story with the past and present sort of mangled up together. Looking back, I can't belive I didn't think of this! Thank you for your assistance.

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