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I know that some people say flashbacks are to be frowned upon.

But I’m in a situation where I feel a flashback could maybe be more effective.

It’s a crime/drama/mystery. Basically, Greg has gone missing. In the scene, the detectives are interviewing Greg’s girlfriend. She tells an emotional short story about how Greg was acting strange the last time she saw him. The story she tells takes place right before the screenplay starts.

I originally planned that the girlfriend would just tell it normally, but I’ve been thinking that a flashback could pack more punch. And it could add character empathy/development. Also, the scene is running a little long and I think a flashback could break up the length.

What do you guys think? Am I a bad writer for thinking this?

Yay or nay?

Thanks! :)

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    I'm not sure who says flashbacks are a bad thing? They're a tool, and you need to use them in a way that works -- but it sounds like you've got good reasons this is the right tool for the job. Flashbacks are a super common tool -- they can be abused, but I don't know who says they shouldn't be used at all. – Standback Jan 3 '18 at 8:03
  • This can help: creativescreenwriting.com/… – Harshit kyal Jan 3 '18 at 8:46
  • I tried your link Harshit Kyal, but it said - “this link is private and may try to steal your information”...??? – Marcus Meier Jan 3 '18 at 21:00
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Flashbacks are fine and used all the time. In film in particular, this is part of "show don't tell" the story, and what that phrase originally meant: Anything you want to say, try to put in action and scene instead of dialogue.

Just this last year I must have seen half a dozen shows that begin with somebody saying (essentially) "This is what happened..." Then go to VO for a setup line or two ("John and I just got back from Melissa's party, and he was drunk...") then we are in flashback of John fumbling with the keys at the door or whatever, we are in the scene.

The flashback ends with VO again, the scene transitions to current time, and the narrator is on-screen: "That's all I remember, I woke up in that bathroom stall at the bar."

How you do the transitions is not really up to you, so keep the direction simple or non-existent. The director will decide whether to take your advice or not. Flashbacks can end in various ways.

Be Careful that your flashback scene only contains what the narrator can know. It does not have to be shot from the POV of the narrator, but if the narrator is Amy you can't show in the flashback when John goes outside to the car without her and hides something in the glove compartment, or show John surreptitiously taking a note from his jacket pocket (insert address and time or whatever), and whispering it to himself alone in the kitchen before he throws it away.

Which are obvious examples. The flashback is a scene, so it can be easy to forget in the writing or revision of it that it should only contain what the person flashing-back actually observed and remembered.

If the flashback is long then it can be helpful to interrupt it for questions from an interrogator, or because the narrator said something and then remembered: "No, wait, he didn't -- He usually throws his jacket on the bed, but he didn't. He made a point of hanging it up, right away." Then rewind or revise the flashback accordingly, or to save time just pick up the flashback with John hanging the jacket in the closet and turning, etc.

Just to remind the audience they ARE watching a flashback and a tale from memory.

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I can think of at least two detective shows - Without A Trace and Cold Case - that do this multiple times per episode, as part of their general structure. As long as it's made clear that it's a flashback (for example, a fade-to-white transition before and afterwards), I don't see any problem with you doing this.

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  • Thanks! I’ve heard of Without a Trace and Cold Case many times...I should probably give them a watch. – Marcus Meier Jan 3 '18 at 20:59

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