Writing: Flashbacks and Framing

Many writers love to start a story with a character dealing with the trauma or consequences of a big event, but often the way they recount this event leaves the beginning feeling flat.

It’s been a while since I've done a writing related blog post, so I thought I’d give some quick advice on this common mistake.

When it comes to recounting an event, having people talk about it will always leave the current action of the story removed from the event. Whether this is a chat between friends or a full court case, it generally leads to the problem that all current action is halted for the lengthy dialog. While past events are important, a story will always pack a lot more punch if it starts with some sort of current action to move us forward in the plot.

So what might be some better ways to do this?

This is one of the times that a flashback might come in handy. A flashback allows the past to become immediate again. If used in the right amount, it wouldn't be hard to weave together something like a conversation or some legal proceedings with the right snippets of flashbacks to make the past feel exciting. It also might better show the mental state of the character as questions or statements bring up vivid memories from the big event they recently experienced.

Another great tool to use in this situation would be to provide a backdrop of action while the conversation occurs. Often a lot of movies begin this way, showing a character moving or going places while a voice over describes the background to the story.

Whatever action you choose, make sure it doesn't feel boring or stiff. You want your story to start off with a bang!