I would like to use flashbacks in my novel. I am not sure when to place them - in the middle of a chapter, at the end of a chapter, as a chapter on its own. What are the advantages and common usages for flashbacks that I can refer to?
Generally, you can place flashbacks in the beginning, middle, or end of a chapter. Or dedicate a full chapter to them.
The only general rule I've seen is to try to keep them away from the beginning of the novel. Most definitely not start the novel with lots of flashbacks. Keep them in act II where we know the people of the novel and care about them enough to want to know about their past.
It's also possible to use flashbacks in sequels. However, Swain wrote that a sequel should be around one page long, so it will be very compressed. Likely even a page or a half page of telling the flashback... which wouldn't really make it a proper flashback per se.
A more common way of doing backstory nowadays is to sneak it into the text flow as small mentions of backstory.
"You don't just walk into a place like this," John said. Blocking the door with his hand. "What's your plan?"
Jane stopped in the hotel lounge. The last time, with John, had only been a year ago. Time had really flown by. She grabbed her bag harder and kept walking.
There's no real hard and fast rule for this and as such it'll vary from work to work. Put them in the place where it makes the most sense in the narrative. That said, make it clear so the reader will know they're reading a flashback and the context of it should make sense and be relevant to the scene the flashback is framed in.
Ahhh...the good ole flashback dilemma! I'd say the usage just depends on how you write your story. There is no real right way to do it. But if placed properly, flashbacks can intensify the mood of a scene, or add insight into a character's decision.
When she saw the smoke swirling from his nostrils, she felt immediate revulsion. Suddenly, she was stuck in that dump again, breathing the cancerous air all day as she waited tables and tried to ignore the leering looks and rude remarks of the customers. No, she decided right then that she could never date a man who smoked. No matter how nice his hair looked, or how waxed his car was.
Haha, a bit melodramatic, but you get the idea. Anyway, I don't think it matters where you insert the flashbacks, so long as they help move the story along and deepen the situation.
If you read The Hunger Games, you may find that the author broke a lot of flashback "rules." But she seemed to have done pretty well. Follow your instincts, and don't think too hard about it! Have fun :-)
My novel has a series of dream sequences where the MC is essentially reliving segments of a dead (ghost) character's life. I always placed them at the very beginning of a chapter so that people are already expecting a transition. I also indented them, and used a scene break and extra space to set them apart from the main text. Most of them were relatively short (less than a page). Short of italicizing the whole thing, I couldn't do a lot more to make the separation clear.
Whatever you decide, I would do the same exact thing every time you have a flashback so your reader knows what is happening. You CAN have a flashback at the beginning of a story (a prologue) and authors CAN make that work, but that is usually because there is some critical piece of context that is separate from the rest of the story that needs to be introduced first. I would not recommend a prologue if you can help it. I've been told you should always introduce your MC first in a story, and a prologue makes this hard. Flashbacks may suddenly involve people who are dead, or not involved in the main story, and you don't want to confuse the reader. I agree with Erk that the beginning of the story is an awkward place for flashbacks because you are still establishing the storyline and the flashback muddles the narrative.
But make it clear, place it consistently so as to not confuse your readers, and be scrupulous in identifying who is talking (especially if you are introducing very different content from the story, which is often the point of a flashback) and you should be in the clear.