Flashbacks and repressed memories make for interesting reading in fiction, but there’s a problem. So often, the subject can become another cliché, similar to an opening italicised dream.
Clearly, though, some people repress memories of a traumatic event and triggers such as a smell or a sound can cause those memories to come back, often resulting in distress.
Since fiction is all about character and since characters reflect people and their problems, I can see no reason for advising against the use of flashbacks in novel writing. However, I would suggest the following:
- Imagine that you are the character
- Introduce fleeting impressions of memory at first, relying on one or more of the five senses
- Make sure there is an adequate trigger for the first flashback, preferably a sound or a smell. Alternatively, discussing an event can trigger memories that a person wasn’t aware of
- Avoid using italics
- Develop the memory over the course of the story, especially the images and the impact on the character
- If the character is remembering a traumatic event, have some of the details echo
- Introduce something new each time you deal with the memory scene
I’ve reached the 65,000 word stage in my first novel, a psychological thriller, and am now dealing the above points. Rewarding and not too difficult. I’m enjoying it.