How the hell do I use flashbacks in first-person narrative??


Man, I’m having some trouble right now with my book. I’m trying to insert some flashback scenes here and there, and I have no clue if I am doing it right or not. The problem is that my protagonist is speaking in first-person for the entire book. I decided to write the flashbacks in first-person, also… but it is still him, speaking at younger ages. It’s been really fun to do this, and I really love the “new” scenes.

I’m trying to decide if:

* I should put the flashbacks in italics… or not.

* I should section off the flashbacks with a little symbol (I currently use * * * between paragraphs with spaces above and under to signal a new scene is starting), or make them their own standalone chapters? If I did THAT, the chapter thing, would it throw the book off-balance if the flashback chapters only occur three or four times in the whole book? Would they have to happen, say, every two or three chapters or so? So the reader has an expectation/routine to the story’s flow?

And finally,

*Should I just flow the flashbacks chronologically at the beginning of the book, so my character ages accordingly? I kind of don’t want to do this one, but again, I’m trying to think of all the possibilities.

It’s strange that I haven’t found very much yet in terms of writing flashbacks in first-person… yet. I need to keep looking, obviously. I had been trying to find fiction where this same thing happens, but the flashbacks in Diana Gabaldon’s books happen for entire CHUNKS of the book. Part II, Part III, etc… Yeah, I can’t write an 800 page book for the first one out, so that’s not going to work, per se, with my book. Also, she switches POV up quite a bit in this second book of hers. I don’t know yet how to switch POV successfully.


I rewrite the flashbacks as some kind of journal entries or official records, told from someone else’s point of view…?


But I really LIKE writing and reading my protagonist’s childhood voice. So much fun.

But he would be interesting to the outside person as well, being what he is and all… so maybe having an outside perspective would work.

OH DEAR GOD! This is how writers lose their minds! Or why so many of them turn to drinking!

Well, that’s all I have to blog about right now, I guess. I’ve definitely got a one-track mind right now. 😉


3 responses »

  1. I like the italics idea. The main beef I have about flashbacks lately is that they do ruin the flow of the book. Especially when they are entire separate chapters. I like them better when they are either italicized, or indicated by a date above where the flashback begins (chapter flashbacks are ok in that case). Honestly, I find flashbacks pretty frustrating to read, overall, and can’t believe I’ve recently selected so many books that (unknowingly) relied so heavily on flashbacks. I kind of HATE them, at this point. But, like you said, once you establish a pattern and there’s an expected flow, it’s not so bad. And, like I mentioned, something that clearly indicates the flashback is also helpful.

    I do read one series that includes helpful “past life” information in the forms of letters, journal entries and other records. Nothing in these books explains what that info is, or what it’s for- the reader just has to figure it out on their own, but still… In that case, because it’s historical, it’s at least interesting enough to give the reader pause to read it, rather than skipping over it. The problem with that method in that particular series, though, is that the reader has to figure out which character it’s referring to, because the author provides no help. Sometimes these “flashbacks” have absolutely no bearing on the story at all, but are just a tidbit of extra information.

  2. Thanks for weighing in on this! I am very concerned about ruining the flow of the book, so it’s interesting that this is the first thing you mentioned, too. I did end up finding some very good articles about flashbacks in fiction and spent some time reading different expert opinions and I think I have an idea now of what I might do.

    I really only need two of the flashbacks to be more than a page in length. The others, I can chop down considerably so they are short and might be able to be told as part of the current narrative. One author suggested doing it with this method: The protagonist’s memory is jarred by an object, sound, smell, etc. and he briefly talks about how it brings him back to the day X happened. It can be an inner dialogue, or actual dialogue with another person if you do it right.

    The two longer flashbacks will be lead into by conversation/dialogue. For instance, someone wants to know what happened to the dolphin Zachary thought of as his mother figure, and he will tell them what happened. But not with quotation marks, because it’s a bit of a long scene and I hate reading loooong dialogues that are broken up with quotes. Instead, I’ll do it in italic… like he is reliving the day. Because he does relive that day anytime he thinks about it. It was the worst day of his life up until that point.

    Do you think that might work OK?

    I LOVE your opinions because you’re such an avid reader, and you read all kinds of books.I can’t think of a better person to ask than someone who loves reading! Thank you so, so much. 🙂

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