A flashback offers a unique way for an author to present the events of a story. It can add drama or suspense, or fill the reader in on important information about characters, relationships, motivations, perspective, and events. It often reveals the source of a current conflict, or it can provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the motivations of a villain. Many well-known works of literature begin their tales at the end and work their way back to the beginning. Other stories begin in medias res (in the middle of things) and fill in the rest of the narrative with flashbacks before moving forward.
Notable Examples of Flashback in Literature
To Kill A Mockingbird: the entire novel is told as a flashback to Scout at aged 6-9 years old from her perspective as an adult
A Separate Peace: the entire novel is told as a flashback when Gene visits the Devon School 15 years later
Catcher in the Rye: the novel is told as a flashback from Holden’s perspective in a rest home a year after his mental breakdown
The Things They Carried: this memoir is told as a flashback, and there are several flashbacks within the memoir to other events
“The Scarlet Ibis”: this story is told from the perspective of the narrator as an adult, looking back on the short time he had as a child with his brother, Doodle
Thirteen Reasons Why: this novel uses several flashbacks to reveal past events that led Hannah to commit suicide