If you follow Kristen Lamb’s blog, you’ve probably been reading her excellent posts on flashbacks, and if you don’t follow her blog, you should definitely tap into this goldmine of all things writerly. Lamb doesn’t care for the blanket term “flashback” because that calls to mind her idea of the “training wheels flashback,” a crutch that is often used by newbie authors. But to keep things simple in this blog post, I’ll just refer to them in their generic term, flashbacks.
To a certain extent, I agree with her observations on flashbacks. But, like any writing rule, some are made to be broken, especially if the author does it well. Take Kristan Higgins (love her!). She always includes a chapter-long flashback in her books. I enjoy her flashbacks. They serve a definite purpose — to reveal whatever emotional trauma the hero and heroine has been through that makes him or her the scarred, misguided, emotionally stunted person they are today (and I mean that in the best way possible ☺). Her flashbacks reveal the depth of emotion and angst that only a “real-time” flashback can provide.
I used the flashback device in Dreams of Perfection. Because the hero and heroine are best friends, he already knows her story. It isn’t something she has to reveal to him in order for them to bond. But, the reader doesn’t know her story. Like Higgins, I thought the best way to convey her traumatic experience (the one that led to her commitment phobia and the reason she can’t have her happily-ever-after), was in the form of a flashback. It was the best device to delve into her psyche and witness the event “first hand” through her eyes. It also sheds light on her relationship with the hero.
Like many other writing rules, the “no flashback rule” can be broken, but it should be broken for a well thought-out reason, and not just used as a method of backstory dump.
So, where do you come down on this literary device? Yay or nay?