I'm writing a first-person POV in which my MC has flashbacks/memories of previous lives. As these happen several times throughout the novel, I use italics for these scenes to help the reader understand it's not current time. At one point, in a previous life, she has a dream. Is there any rule, or tips for formatting this so people can understand it's not reality or present day?

1 Answer 1


First of all, there are no rules ;)

As for tips, there can be formatting methods to indicate this (say, use a deeper indent), but I would personally focus on textual/narrative methods instead.

Ideally, I believe, special formatting should not be used at all. I wouldn't even use italics. This is especially the case if these flashbacks can (and they should) be structurally separate. That is to say, if they are the natural beginnings of chapters, you don't need to use italics. If they can't be separate chapters, you could at least separate them with sectional separators (three dots for instance). With a bit of context, a reader can very quickly realize it's a flashback.

Trust your readers. Readers always "get it".

Especially if these flashbacks occur often, overdoing it with italics (or other special formatting) can be tiring.

  • Interesting, I didn't think italics could be overdone. But guess it could tire the eyes. I do use section separators as well and try to make it clear in the narrative that it's not the present time. Sep 16, 2018 at 22:28
  • -1 The rest of the answer is good, but I'd say "Readers always get it" is demonstrably not true, otherwise none of us would have ever read a book that confused us about what the hell was going on. And it has less to do with trusting the reader than fulfilling your responsibilities, as an author, to the readers, and building their experience. Sep 17, 2018 at 16:44
  • @jdsandara - Anything can be overdone. :) And DD is absolutely correct that any kind of "tricks" with the text are best used sparingly. Sep 17, 2018 at 16:48

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