A flashback can work really good to support your plot or to make your persona more credible. It can also prevent your plot from becoming boring from a chronological description of events. There are different ways to use flashbacks but you might run into practical issues. For instance, how can you use dialogue in flashbacks, should you use past tense, and Hoe ga je bijvoorbeeld om met dialoog in een flashback, and what is the difference between a flashback and a memory?
What is a flashback
A flashback taks the reader to the past for a brief moment. Afterwards, the reader returns to the spot where the plot was interrupted. A flashback can be as small as a sentence, or as big as a chapter in a book. The importance of the flashback for the plot determines the length.
In psychology, a flashback is ‘a sudden but lively reliving of a traumatic event that involves extreme emotions’. People that suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can experience very strong emotions that are triggered by a sound or a smell. Although, technically this has nothing to do with a flashback in literature, there are similarities. Most authors agree that a flashback should follow a very strong scene. Something must have happened that triggered your persona (or plot) to be thrown back in time. The flashback functions as a means to inform the reader, to deepen the story, to clarify the persona, or to make plot twists possible.
Consider the difference between a flashback and a memory. A flashback paints a factual event in the past. Everything that happens in a flashback has ‘actually’ happened. A memory is something the persona remembers and can be colored by emotion. Use a flashback to inform the reader about the history and the memory to give insight in the mind of the persona.
Flashbacks should always add value to the persona of the plot. It should allow the reader to better understand why a persona acts like it does.
Internal and external flashbacks
Sometimes the distinction is made between internal and external flashbacks. An interne flashback is a flashback that points back to an event that happened from within the time frame of the story. Your story taks place in a certain time frame (between T1 and T2). When the flashback is somewhere between T1 and T2, it is called an internal flashback.
You can use internal flashbacks to create tension and friction in the plot. Such flashbacks can help to explain things that have been unclear so far. They are also referred to as ‘declarative flashbacks’.
When the flashback takes place before T1 (and outside of the time frame of your plot), it is called an external flashback. External flashbacks enable deepening your persona. It gives your persona a history. Flashbacks that give more background information about a persona, are also referred to as ‘gossip flashbacks’
How to apply flashback in erotica?
A flashback enables you to bring extra tension in your plot. You interrupt the chronological order of events. Just pay attention, that this must be logical to the reader. One way to do that, is to use some kind of ‘announcement’, by letting your character say things like ‘I di remember that…’ or ‘we first met when…’. The reader now knows a flashback is coming up.
An other way, is by explicitly announcing a flashback with some kind of time stamp, for example ‘that was completely different back in the 1930s. At that time …’.
A nicer way of writing flashbacks, is based on triggers of emotions, senses and stimuli. The smell of leather can take your persona back to the time he was all tied up by a dominatrix and that antique side table might have reminded her to the time she was in Rome and experienced her first escapade. You can use virtually everything as a trigger to create a flashback.
Just like you announce the flashback, you should also make clear when the reader has returned to the present.
Dialogue as an alternative for flashbacks
A convenient way to use flashbacks is thorough a dialogue, in which one person explains something that happened in the past to another person, for example:
“Don’t you know what happened to Anne?”
“No, I don’t.”
“A year ago she was attacked by a motor gang. Psychically she was fine, but has had insomnia for several months.”
This way you prevent to use a (technically) hard way of interrupting your story and still you can inform the reader with what happened.
Present tense of past tense
Many writers tell their story in past tense. But how to go about when using flashbacks? Should they also be in past tense? Of should the main plot be in present tense when you use a couple of flashbacks?
There are no strict rules for the perspective. You can even have a plot that is written in past tense and use a flashback in present tense. For example:
She thought about that forst time with Frederik. Although she did not realize it at the time, it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece.
As slowly as possible, she slides her panties down. He can hardly take away his eyes from the little sprig of ginger hair, that seems to sparkle in the candle light.
More important is that you let your reader notice when the flashback begins and when it ends.
Flashback as alternative for an intro
In order to draw your reader right into the story from the beginning, you have to start with the action. ‘Start with the throw of the stone, not with the running up to the throw’. A flashback can be a perfect means to inform the reader what happened before the action.
Many detective stories for instance start with the discovery of a body ans only later you get to know what lead to the death. You can use this kind of story lining in erotica too. Avoid starting with how the personas have met, but start with the action, or at least wit ha scene that brings friction and tension. If you then decide it is important for the reader to know how the two have met (believe me: it often is not), you might consider using a flashback or memory.
This way, your plot will win in speed, it is much less of a ‘report‘ and the reader gets sucked into the story from the beginning.