(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“A flashback is a scene taken from the past. It is a dramatized exposition.” Ayn Rand

“The only rule for going into a flashback is to avoid confusing the reader.” Ayn Rand

“The only standard for when to use flashbacks is the importance of the information you want to convey. Incidental information you cover in narrative. If the information is important to the story; it is better to go into a detailed flashback.” Ayn Rand

“A flashback is a view of the world and events through character memory.” Ulf Wolf

“It is legitimate now and then to remind the reader of the present during a long flashback—but only if you have a reason for it and you advance the story by that means.” Ayn Rand

“The artist is someone who never lost the eidetic memory normal in childhood.” John Gardner

“The fiction or nonfiction novel . . . relies on the reader’s ability to recall the gist of the story and the specifics of character and event. As the novel accumulates, the requirements of  memory become daunting.” Philip Gerard

“Realize just how much this is asking of the reader: By the beginning of the last chapter of, say, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck is counting on the reader’s ability to remember 388 pages—more than a hundred thousand words’ worth of names, places, events, nuances of character, historical background, physical description, past action, dialogue, and narrative reflection. All of it, every word, is essential context for the final scene. Forget any important part of it, and the power of Rose of Sharon’s gesture at the end of the book is diminished.” Philip Gerard

“It took me a year’s groping to discover what I call my tunneling process, by which I tell the past by installments, as I have need of it.” Virginia Woolf