There are rare moments within a screenplay where a flashback can make sense and add power to the story without the use of a transitional device. Although these moments are rare, many screenwriters choose to initiate a flashback sequence without setting up the scene. While many screenwriting techniques utilize a transitional device to trigger a flashback, I find one of the most interesting ways of signaling a flashback sequence is through a memory associated with a particular object.
Initiating a flashback sequence through an object is not only one of the most common methods, but also one of the most effective. This article guides readers through the process of object-triggered flashbacks.
Not Just Any Object
Obviously, a flashback should not be triggered by any ole’ object. Instead, utilize this technique by tying an emotional connection with one or more objects. Once this connection is established, it’s imperative you inform the audience the level of this connection through either dialogue or unspoken expositions.
For example, the character wanders through an antique store. Browsing for a gift, he stumbled across a paper weight in the shape of a rooster. Holding the object and studying its design, a flashback is started where he is a little boy in his grandfather’s study. On top of the big desk is a rooster paperweight.
While what happens after this moment depends on the story, the audience is immediately made aware of the emotional connection between the character and the object. This is an essential element that must be delivered to the audience for clarity.
Use Only Once
Very rarely have I read a script or seen a film where the same object triggered more than one flashback. The reason for this: it comes across as lazy and monotonous. Imagine how boring, and unintentionally comical, it would be if every time the character sees a rooster paperweight he is triggered into another flashback.
If you must utilize more than one flashback sequence in your film, and you choose to stick with the object-oriented transitional device, please use various objects. Many screenwriting coaches suggest using only one flashback during the scope of your film. I personally disagree as some of my favorite films use more than one flashback sequence; however, you must be extremely selective when going after more than one flashback sequence. This is especially important if you decide to only use an object transitional device.