There’s an old screenwriters joke about I wrote a flashback and within the flashback, I wrote another flashback and now I can’t get out of it and nothing makes sense. The Flashback is not something to be taken lightly and when written well, it can be a very effective tool to use for exposition or any other part of writing. This past Christmas I watched a movie and found the perfect example of a badly written constructed series of flashbacks. It may not have been the writer, it may have been the editing of the flashbacks. Anyway when the flashbacks occurred there was no way of knowing when we were in a flashback. You weren’t sure what the year was, where the flashback happened and what we were trying to learn from it about the main character. It just jumped from one scene into the flashback. It was very confusing and made the story very hard to follow, because all in all the acting was stupendous. It was deeply disappointing to me, because the movie took place in a town I had spent one year of my life in and I recognized many locales in the movie. There was even a shot of the restaurant I worked and the town hall across the street from it. If the flashbacks had been better edited or written, I would have enjoyed the movie far better. There were a few other issues, some were casting, which confused me about the history of two characters.
In my series the Third Eye, I have utilized the flashback tool a lot. I have used to to explain Drake’s past and another character, so you can see how those two characters got to the point where they are at. Here are some key things for the writer to do with a flashback. First of all, you can give your audience an idea that a flashback is coming up in many different ways. In the manuscript, you can write flashback in your next slug line, put the date, time, year and place. This gives the reader and idea that a flashback is happening next and it is related to the previous scene. It is up to the director or person who edits the film whether he wants to use that, or to convey it some way that makes it apparent that this next scene is a flashback.
Drake Darrow has a lot of narrative, so he leads you into those flashbacks and the flashbacks are always an important part of the story. I was tinkering with the pilot again and Drake talks about how he first met Kitty. Originally I didn’t have a flashback in there, but I decided a flashback would add something to their relationship and how this odd relationship came to be. The other thing you can do, is have a close shot on the lead character, maybe something is said in a previous conversation with another character about his past. Bingo, hold a shot on him and go to that portion of his life. Another tactic that is used quite often is take that slug and put it in the film. You could put it into a titles shot. Something like Boston Massachusetts at Tully’s Bar 1976. Something simple like that tells the audience that they are going back in time. None of these tools were used in this movie and it left things a bit befuddled. Hopefully this clears up some things on how a flashback should be written.