Flashback and Flash Forward

What Are Flashback and Flash Forward?

A flashbacks occurs when the writer decides to insert details from the past into a present narrative in order to provide necessary plot information or insight into a character’s motivation. A flashback may show pivotal scenes from childhood or other memories that reveal unknown character traits or dilemmas. A character may suddenly remember an event from the past that triggers a flashback, or the flashback may simply occur without warning.

A flash forward, on the other hand, is when some event that has yet to happen in the present narrative time intrudes. A flash forward are like foreshadowing in that both provide clues as to what will happen later on in a story. But foreshadowing gives only an impressionistic sense of future events, while a flash forward shows the reader or viewer exactly what the future holds in store, even though the reader may not have enough information to make sense of this detail yet. Sometimes, a flash forward is nothing more than an opening line that reveals a major event in the future. “In a week’s time, the Thomas family will be dead.”

How Do You Identify a Flashback or a Flash Forward in Writing?

In old movies, a “flashback” or a  “flash forward” were often conveyed using a spinning montage of newspaper articles or turning calendar pages. Modern films and literature tend to imbed a flashback or a flash forward into the fabric of the plot seamlessly, which can be confusing at first. It’s up to the reader to sort out the threads of past, present, and future narratives in order to understand how these out-of-time intrusions assist in plot development.

Examples of Flashback and Flash Forward

1. Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction uses both flashback and flash forward to construct his three part film. The movie begins with a flash forward to a restaurant robbery seen from the point of view of the thieves. By the time we return to the same scene again, we realize that these thieves are just one more distraction in the lives of two gangsters who have already committed murder several times over that day.

2. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dicken, also uses flashback and flash forward in the forms of the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future.

3. Terminator 2 uses flash forward to illustrate what life will be like in the future if the machines are allowed to become intelligent.

4. Wuthering Heights, the novel by Emily Bronte, uses flashback to retell the entire story of Cathy’s romance with Heathcliff.

5. The film Citizen Kane employs a flashback to add sympathy to the viewer’s otherwise ruthless perspective of the enigmatic figure of Charles Foster Kane.


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