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Focus On Format: How Do I Write A Flashback Within A Flashback?

Flashback And Format

First up, many thanks to Anna who asks ‘How do I write a flashback within a flashback?’ 

In the first instance, I have to ask Anna … are you sure you WANT to write a flashback within a flashback??

I must confess, flashbacks within flashbacks are one of my very few pet peeves as a script reader. I don’t understand them in a story sense. If something *is* UNreal in the story (like memory, dreams, or whatever) then how can something create something **further unreal** within it?? It makes my brain explode.

The other one that irks me is when a screenplay STARTS with a flashback … what are we flashing back from??? OMG!!!

But okay, okay … let’s assume Anna has a really great story reason for writing a flashback within a flashback. As I always say, just because I have not seen it work so far in the spec pile does not mean something is impossible.

All About Flashbacks

Flashbacks are usually plot devices. This dictionary definition is pretty good … ‘noun or verb. A move to a scene in a film, novel, etc. that is set in a time earlier than the main story.’ CLICK HERE for some iconic flashbacks in classic movies.

Very often, writers don’t use flashbacks in a plotting way. Instead they will use them to reveal character. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this per se, but it quickly becomes dull when those scenes do little to advance the plot. This is why I think these types of flashbacks are better off called ‘characterisation inserts’. CLICK HERE for some examples.

Flashbacks also mean a story may qualify as non-linear. This can become a huuuuuuge issue if the writer does not ‘re-structure their structure’ to reflect this. More links …

10 Quick Tips About Writing Non-Linear Stories

4 Big Non-Linearity Mistakes in Screenplays

How 600 Seconds Can Kill Your Screenplay Dead

On Formatting Flashbacks

Formatting flashbacks is generally very simple in a spec screenplay. You just write ‘flashback’ above the scene heading, like this … The pics below are from the B2W 1 Page Format Ref Guide. You may or may not want to include captions (it’s up to you).

When you’re done, you just write the following at the very bottom in brackets …

So, just do it twice??

I guess so. Simply indicate the **original** flashback, then indicate another **within** it, wherever you want it. Boom.

Grab your FREE 1 page Format Ref guide from The B2W Resources page. Make sure you scroll down to the PDF gallery.

For more formatting advice for screenplays, check out THE B2W FORMAT ONE STOP SHOP.

Plus here’s The B2W FAQs (‘frequently asked question’) page. Worth a bookmark!

Good luck!

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1 thought on “Focus On Format: How Do I Write A Flashback Within A Flashback?”

  1. Hi Lucy and Bang to Write People Greetings from lockdown…!
    Re flashbacks
    As some if you might know, I’ve written and taught a lot on flashbacks and other nonlinearity. In case it’s useful I have a lot videos online explaining the different types and how to structure them , including one on flashbacks within flashbacks.The link is below with links to other videos. Just one thing. To write flashbacks in my view it’s important to stress that flashback is not just one thing to be dropped into a linear structure. I’ve identified 9 clear structural types, some simple, others very complex, with hybrids appearing all the time.
    I think we’ll all be out of a job if we don’t get our heads around flashbacks and nonlinearity because TV, the biggest game on town, is now full of multiple nonlinear structures with flashbacks ubiquitous, so much so that a lot of my teaching now is on how wrangle these nonlinearTV monsters. So they’re important. Not that nonlinear and flashbacks are new- Homer’s Odyssey in the original is more nonlinear than Pulp Fiction. Same writing reason as TV long form series- creates unfolding mystery and builds suspense. Anyhow- hope this is useful! Cheers Linda Aronson
    Flashbacks within flashbacks

    And here’s some other useful stuff

    1) my website where there’s a lot of information eg ‘Which structure suits my film’

    2) my book ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’ which has step by step guides and templates to 25 or so types of story structure that don’t fit the Hollywood one hero three act structure mode

    SOME MORE VIDEOS ABOUT FLASHBACK ( and there are more on the YouTubechannel)

    1) A Quick Introduction to Flashback, Nonlinear and Ensemble Stories

    2)Flashback Writing for Film and TV Part 1 (three simple sorts)

    3) Flashback Writing for Film and TV Part 2 (three more complicated sorts)

    4) Flashback Writing for Film and TV Part 3 (the three more sorts,complicated and need very careful

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