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FLASHBACKS: 100 Rules & How To Break Them

From: Jacob K.
Sent on: Thursday, October 6, 2011 10:13 AM

As part of new blog series, each week, I’ll be exploring one of the so-called “rules of screenwriting” and showing both why they exist, and how to break them in exciting ways that expand and deepen your writing. To see previous posts in this series, visit the blog.

This Week:

Rule #2:  ”Don’t Use Flashbacks”

As any screenwriting teacher will tell you, flashbacks almost always mean big trouble for young writers.

No matter how exciting their content may seem to be, by their very nature flashbacks almost always kill the drama of a story, distracting both writer and audiences from what is most important in a script: the main character’s present day journey.

For this reason, it’s become dogma among screenwriting gurus, enlightened producers, and film professors that flashbacks should be avoided at all costs.

Good advice.  Except for the fact that sometimes flashbacks just plain work.  

Can you imagine what would happen if the writers of great films like Memento,Sophie’s Choice, or Blue Valentine had clung to the rules about avoiding flashbacks?

Their films would have lost some of their most powerful elements– and possibly never even been written in the first place.

While avoiding flashbacks may be a good rule of thumb for keeping you out of trouble, the real question is not whether or not you should use flashbacks, but how they are affecting the drama of your story.

Deciding whether or not flashbacks are working in your screenplay is not about simply following a rule. 

It’s about developing a nuanced approach, based on your intentions for your project, the visual language of your writing, and the shape of your story.

That means understanding the problems flashbacks pose, so you can make sure the flashbacks in your story are propelling things forward, rather than stopping your movie in its tracks.

Stay tuned for the next installment in which I’ll be exploring the top three reasons why flashbacks can be so dangerous, as well as an approach to dealing with flashbacks that can help you break the rules, and make them work for you, rather than against you.


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