You would have seen many movies where the flow of the story goes in such a way -

The present life of the protagonist - talks with someone / sees something - reminds him something of a past experience - shows the past incident - back to the present time

Now this is a good way of showing the story and balancing between past and present. But my question is, for writing a novel, is this a good approach? Because I think this might make the readers a bit confused. (For the movie part, the viewer can see the change in time, which might help them)

Also, if there's an example of any novels written in such a manner then kindly give some examples.

  • 2
    You can answer your own question: have you ever read any novels with flashbacks? Do they work? (spoiler: yes)
    – FraEnrico
    Jan 5, 2018 at 11:49
  • 1
    I'm currently reading Stephen King's "It", narration-wise a perfect example of what you describe. King uses different tenses and types of narrators to clearly distinguish between what has happened in the past and what is happening in the narrator's present.
    – Filip
    Jan 9, 2018 at 10:58
  • Right, IT is one of the good examples; however I haven't read the book yet. Will read it soon. Thanks :)
    – HardikT
    Jan 10, 2018 at 5:13

3 Answers 3


I tried skipping flashbacks in a rough draft but after some prompting from a friend I wrote them in. I'm still not fully sure which to keep or which to cull, but this is my little guideline: If it adds to the story, helps the plot along, understand the characters' motives in the plot and is interesting to read, keep it, if it isn't then cut it.

Also it helps to write the flashback in the early drafts and go over it later. If you find yourself skipping over the flashback to continue reading the present plotline, then it likely isn't needed. But if the flashback is interesting and continues the flow or understanding of the main plot then keep it.

  • Hmm. Valid point of flashback taking over the present story.
    – HardikT
    Jan 12, 2018 at 13:43
  • Indeed it appears to be as I'm getting closer to the end of the rough draft. On the surface it seems about saving a character from committing suicide and help him find a long lost friend who's turned into an enemy. I wrote it trying to keep the flashbacks out but it felt flat. With the flashbacks in, that gave more depth to what led the character to his decision, and made the outcome with his enemy/ former friend more interesting knowing both of their viewpoints.
    – BugFolk
    Jan 12, 2018 at 13:51
  • After including the flashbacks I found the real theme about the story seems to be about facing problems they've been running away from/ avoiding.
    – BugFolk
    Jan 12, 2018 at 13:53
  • Right. So it also depends on the theme of the story whether to keep flashbacks and whether they're important or not, for the flow of the story.
    – HardikT
    Jan 13, 2018 at 4:53

The best selling book on Amazon is the new stormlight archive book by Sanderson. It's the third of three, and a thousand pages that is entirely structured around a single character in present time and whatever bad thing happened prior. 1 in 3 chapters is a flashback.

The name of the wind, by rothfuss is largely only flashback.

The prestige (possibly greatest movies with flashbacks) was a book, first.

Wizard and glass of the dark tower is a flashback, book and it's also very good.

Yes, you can do this, but you're correct to worry about what a movie can do and what a story can do. While they share this implement, they wield it differently.

In either case your biggest concerns are going to be momentum and engagement. If either story is more interesting than the other, it will unbalance the novel and destroy it.


If the flashback scene is short, you can use italics to show the protagonist thinking about the past. Some writers also use the 3 asterisks *** at the beginning of a flashback and at its end.

Or you can simply say: His mind went back to the time they were young... With this you're showing the MC's thinking back to his childhood.

Many times flashbacks end into an info dump so be careful with that. Also, even movies, at times, don't show the change from present to a past flashback.

  • Didn't know about the 3 asterisks thing. Thanks. Also writing 'hisind went back...' is a good idea.
    – HardikT
    Jan 12, 2018 at 13:35

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