The Art of Writing Flashbacks in TV & Film Scripts

What we all need to know about writing flashbacks courtesy of our good buds at

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Wanna know how to write a flashback in a script the right way? Great, because some of the most memorable moments in cinema history have been flashbacks.

From Alvy’s iconic “seems like old times” montage at the end of Annie Hall, to Cheryl’s painful memories of her past in Wild, flashbacks can be a very powerful screenwriting device.

So forget any advice you may have heard to “never use flashbacks.” (More on this later.)

In this post, we’re going to show you how to write a flashback in a script that deviates from the linear storyline yet keeps the audience “in the moment.”

Below, we’ll break down:

 What is a “flashback”?

 The “never use flashbacks” myth

 The two biggest mistakes aspiring writers make with flashbacks

 Emotion: the 3 main emotions associated with flashbacks

 Style: the 3 main flashback stylistic choices

 Intent: why use a flashback?

 Screenplay format and the flashback

And, throughout, we’ll go over the screenplay flashback examples that got it right, so that your script will too.

What is a Flashback?

Put simply, a flashback is a moment in which the narrative flashes back in time—from the present day to some point in the near or distant past.

It’s a scene that took place in the past but is inserted into the present narrative in order to advance the story, characters and theme.

Typically, a flashback appears during a moment of trauma for a character in the present, triggering a memory of the past.

This can be a brief flash, a singular scene, or an extended sequence.

Ultimately, a flashback’s goal is to help the audience understand the motives and actions of characters….

The two main flashback categories.

Broadly speaking, there are only two categories of screenplay flashback:

Occasional. We deviate occasionally from an otherwise linear narrative as a character remembers a moment (or moments) from the past. This is by far the most common type of flashback in spec scripts and movies alike. It’s a simple, brief return to the past to illustrate something significant while developing the story and characters, before returning back to the present narrative.

Structural. We remain in the past for most of the narrative, or for extended sequences, as a character knowingly explains the story. This sometimes involves trying to figure out a mystery (The Usual Suspects). Or is sometimes autobiographical (The Notebook). Or sometimes both (Citizen Kane).

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