Purpose In Flashbacks

by Paul
(Florida, USA)

Question: First of all, I'd like to say I'm happy to see you still doing this. I used to ask questions 2-3 yrs ago before losing interest in writing. I've matured a bit since then and know I have a larger scope of consciousness for story now.

Question: I'm writing a sci fi origin story for a future series main character. I once just let my mind run wild, but I still have good feelings about flashbacks for minor characters. Yes, one of the duo of characters is a major obstruction, but they really aren't too important in the end. One will die and the other, escape from the conflict all together... And maybe become a character down the line.

What do you consider flashback worthy? In the back of my head I feel like I already know the answer. If it isn't revealing something important or vital to move the plot along, then leave it out?

I have also seen ("seen" because it was a different medium - anime) stories where the conflict between characters and their beliefs become a sort of mini focal point, even though this "fight" will be the only time you see this individual in the entirety of the series.

If this event is an attention grabber, is flashback truly viable? I guess it is if its a conflict of character growth... A microcosm within the greater story.

Answer: Hi Paul,

You are correct in thinking that a flashback must be of a
significant event. My personal belief is that, to be included, a flashback must be an important signpost in a dramatic arc.

Let's say you have a main character who is going to make an important decision or action that will signify an important moment of change or growth in your story that will enable them to succeed in dealing with the story problem. The arc of the MC's inner conflict will tell how this change happens.

That arc will follow a four-part structure:

setup --> complication --> crisis --> resolution

Now, all four parts may happen in the "present time" timespan of your novel, or maybe not. Maybe the setup happened years before the present story begins. If you leave it out, that would create a plot hole. But if you begin with it, that might take away from the opening of the story. It might feel like a prologue, and many readers dislike prologues.

So the solution is to put it in a flashback. You can be very clever about where you put the flashback, so perhaps the reader doesn't understand why the main character thinks/acts/feels as they do for a while (creating a little mystery) until the flashback fills in the missing piece of the story.

Ditto for flashbacks involving the personal arcs of other characters, a relationship arc, or the main/external story itself. All flashbacks should fill in important parts of a dramatic arc. If they don't, they don't belong in the novel.

Hope that helps.

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