Flashback Examples in Screenwriting

SoCreate
4 min readApr 11, 2023

Flashbacks are a tool that can be used effectively to convey exposition or emotion, but they can also be used in ways that seem redundant or pointless. Knowing how and when to write a flashback is an important skill for all screenwriters! Keep reading to learn more and see some flashback examples in screenwriting.

What Are Some Examples of Flashbacks?

There’s a plethora of flashbacks throughout film and television history! Some popular ones include:

  • “The Godfather” uses flashbacks to depict the Corleone family’s history and how they came to be involved in organized crime.
  • To demonstrate how several tales are connected and to provide the audience with more background on the characters, “Pulp Fiction” uses non-linear storytelling and flashbacks.
  • “The Usual Suspects” uses flashbacks to reveal the identity and motivations of the main villain.

How do you write flashbacks in a screenplay?

If you’ve never written a flashback, you might feel intimidated, but don’t worry; there’s nothing to it! The most important part of writing a flashback is clearly denoting that the scene is a flashback.

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How to indicate a flashback in a screenplay

There are many ways to indicate a flashback in a screenplay. For a deeper dive on flashback formatting, check out my previous blog Going Back in Time: How to Write a Flashback in a Traditional Screenplay.

One of the easiest ways to indicate a flashback is by using a transition line that says:

And when the flashback is over, use another transition that says:

It should look something like this:

How do you start a flashback?

A flashback usually begins with the cue that informs the reader that the narrative is about to leave the present. Writing “FLASHBACK” or “FLASHBACK TO” in a transition line or a slugline are common ways to alert your reader. Following that, you write a slugline describing where the flashback is occurring. After that, write your action descriptions and any dialogue that happens during the flashback.

Try to keep your flashback to the bare minimum of what needs to be seen to understand whatever you’re trying to convey. Overly long flashbacks can make the pacing of a script drag.

How do you write a flashback within a flashback in a script?

Writing a flashback within a flashback, although challenging, can be done! A script that provides examples of this is Leigh Whannel’s “Saw.” A great example is this one:

I didn’t include the whole scene due to the creepiness of “Saw,” but you can see what’s important with this example! The first slugline tells us that we’re in a flashback, and when the writer needs to move to another flashback, he uses a transition to CUT TO: the next scene. The new flashback we enter is clearly labeled in the scene’s slugline as MANDY’S FLASHBACK, so we know this is a different flashback.

This example does some of the most important things you can do when writing flashbacks; it’s clear and consistent. It consistently uses the sluglines to indicate flashbacks and clearly labels the second flashback in a way that’s easy to understand.

No matter how you indicate flashbacks in your script, it’s always important to stick with the same approach throughout the screenplay. When in doubt, be as straightforward and concise as possible!

What does a person having a flashback look like?

A person having a flashback is often portrayed in a script using a combination of dialogue, action, and visual signals.

The following are some examples of how a character experiencing a flashback may be portrayed in a screenplay:

Dialogue:

During a conversation, the character might recall something from the past.

Action:

The character might perform an action that causes them to remember something. Other times an action description of a detached or pensive expression might be used to cue up a flashback.

Visual Cues:

Often considered old-fashioned today, but under the right circumstances, a visual cue such as a dissolve or a wipe could indicate a flashback.

Whether through language, action, or visual signals, it’s always important to make it plain to the reader that the character is experiencing a flashback. You don’t want to lose readers because they’re confused about whether scenes are in the present or the past!

Remember, flashbacks are used in ways that work to convey important information or emotionally connect with an audience. Still, they can also be written in ways that are confusing or even pointless! Always weigh the pros and cons of writing a flashback. You don’t want to weigh down your script with too many flashbacks or confuse the audience with unclear flashbacks. Good luck, and happy writing!

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