Bestselling authors expertly weave flashbacks into the forward motion of the story like flashback ninjas. For them, flashbacks represent more than backstory or information dumping. These authors somehow transform flashbacks into must-read material. How do they do it?
First, a confession: I hate flashbacks. There, I said it.
A more accurate confession, though, is that I – like many, many readers – hate the way many writers handle flashbacks. They tend to be too long, too boring and too story-strangling.
The $10,000 Flashback: What Bestselling Authors Know That You Don’t (And Why It May Be The Key To Unleashing Your Story)
The first flashback secret of bestselling authors is don’t talk about bestselling authors…wait, that’s Fight Club. My confusion. The first secret is that bestselling authors don’t use flashbacks unless they absolutely, positutely, 100% must use them.
In other words, flashbacks are a last resort. The very last resort. Why? Many reasons, but primarily because flashbacks are hard. They are clunky. They stop the story and reverse time – usually the very last thing most readers want to happen. Like I said, I hate flashbacks. I want the present moment story. Most readers do.
Unless…the author has used a bag of writing tricks that leave me literally begging for the flashback. I’ll discuss how to do that in another post because there is one thing that precedes and supersedes all other techniques. I call it the $10,000 Flashback.
The $10,000 Flashback is a psychological trick that can help you determine whether or not to use a flashback. The one thing that bestselling authors know that seemingly many other writers don’t is that flashbacks are costly. Down right expensive!
In fact, they can cost you representation by literary agents who get bored. They can cost you publishing contracts. They can cost you readers who close the book in frustration. Flashbacks can be a $10,000 (or more!) problem.
The dollar amount isn’t nearly as important as the question that flows out of the technique.
The $10,000 Flashback Question: If this flashback cost me $10,000 would I still use it?
If the answer is “yes”, go for it. Get flashback crazy (but stay tuned for my other posts addressing more flashback no-nos and bestseller techniques).
If, however, the answer is “No” then pursue other methods for getting the same story information across.
The bottom line is that bestselling authors (generally) use flashbacks sparingly. Most stories don’t require them. There are a host of other writing techniques for revealing story information. Use one of those. Reserve flashbacks as rare treasures you trot out only when they are the best, most effective, most powerful way for readers to experience your story.
Flashbacks can smother stories. Removing them often immediately enhances a narrative because it keeps the action present and moving forward toward the climax. You might even find that removing a flashback unleashes the potential of your story. Try it. And let me know what happens.