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.

7 thoughts on “Novel Writing: Dealing With Flashbacks and Repressed Memories

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