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Here's another entry for the insecurity files: I never quite know how to handle flashbacks in my writing.

I lump flashbacks in the same category as narration in a movie and expository prologues - they all feel like cheap tricks to give information to the audience.  If you can do it seamlessly, then it's fine, but the rest of the time it just feels stilted and obvious.

I used a few flashbacks in Born Loser, and I think they're okay in that context because the story is told from first-person perspective.  That helps a lot - instead of rapidly shifting from one time period to another, you're just having your narrator give you an informal aside.  First-person perspective allows you to get away with a lot of stuff, actually.

But now I'm trying to put a couple in my post apocalyptic book, and I don't know if that's the right approach.  I'm worried it will be too jarring.  It's compounded by the fact that this book has two protagonists, and the perspective shifts between the two, sometimes even in the same scene, so the third-person narrator is of limited omniscience.  In that sort of situation, why would one character have flashbacks and not another?

It's probably a dumb thing to stress about, but I can't help it.  I don't want to put something in one of my books and be like, "Well, other people use this to positive effect in their books, so surely it'll work for me, too."

Flashbacks are just so invasive.  You have a rhythm going in your scene and there's forward momentum and there's plot progression.  And then you just suddenly go whipping through time to yesteryear with a new setting and possibly even new characters, and then you go whipping right back to where you were.  And we're supposed to pretend that it's fine and nothing strange has happened at all.

You don't get the same kind of whiplash in a movie.  You can frame the flashback as a daydream or a nightmare or something.  Or you can just have a dialogue-free sequence where somebody looks at a memento of their past and then you cut to a landscape inside their head to see what they're thinking about.  You can use visual cues that tell the audience, "It's flashback time!  We're about to see a memory!"

But in a book?  You don't get to use the same kind of shorthand.  You might have to settle for a hard cut.  Or you have to interrupt the flow by basically saying, "And then she thought when her mother died...."  You have to give some kind of segue, even if it's nothing more than a paragraph break.  How do you do that organically?

The alternative to a flashback is just outright exposition, either in dialogue or in a narrative aside.  I'm not sure if that's any better.  I've done that many times and always felt unsatisfied. You'll be in the middle of a scene where Detective John Horseweather is investigating a brutal murder, and then he'll notice a shattered vase or something.  And then you get one of these:

The vase - it was familiar to him.  Yes, he remembered seeing it at the Dorchester Museum of Art just the week before.  It was donated to the museum by Richard Von Richards.  They had a relationship that was tumultuous at best.  The trouble all started back in 1998 when John was dating Von Richards' niece....

And now suddenly you're reading a goddamn treatise on characters who aren't even in the scene and who you don't care about.  Ugh.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Sigh... I'm obsessing about a relatively minor literary device that is of no consequence to anyone, but which I fear will be the one detail that my critics will latch onto as opposed to anything else.  In other words, it's business at usual 'round these parts.