Flashbacks have a way of involving the audience on a very intimate level. While watching a film is a very voyeuristic opportunity, the “fly on the wall” mentality is taken to a deeper level when flashbacks are utilized. This reason for this is the entire nature of a flashback. When you showcase flashbacks you are actually delving into the memory of one or more characters. Standard screenwriting showcases the present day (in the realm of the characters world); however, flashbacks highlight the past. This intimate look into the world of the character must be treated carefully to ensure the best results. The use of transitional devices to cue a flashback is a professional screenwriting technique. While there are many transitional device options, utilizing a physical location to trigger a flashback resonates with audiences as locations naturally hold memories and experiences.
Utilizing a physical location to transition into a flashback requires screenwriters to carefully set up the scene and the deliver a high quality flashback designed to provide more intimate character details.
Location Emotional Connections
Obviously, you can’t simply have your character show up in a bowling alley and then transition into a flashback. While there are exceptions to every rule (even this one) I find the most successful uses of this technique are the ones where a clear emotional connection is made between the location and the character.
For the sake of storytelling, sometimes this emotional connection cannot be delivered before the flashback, but during the flashback. For example, the character experiences a flashback when they walk into a diner; however, the true emotional connection isn’t revealed until the middle of the flashback when its discovered his wife of 30 years had a heart attack and died in traditional diner.
As you can see, there are many ways the emotional connection between a location and the character may be revealed. The only solid, unchanging rule is these connections must be clarified in order for the flashback sequence to make sense.
Don’t Use Multiple Locations
Because the emotional impact flashbacks with this type of transitional device provides, many writers choose to include multiple the flashback sequences that use this form of device. Throughout my experience, I’ve found that using this device multiple times dilutes the impact it has on the story. Since this device carries such an intense weight, using it several times throughout a 120 minute film becomes monotonous and the true objective of such a flashback transition will likely become bogged down with bored audiences.
Keep your screenplay fresh by including multiple transitional devices, if you must have more than one flashback sequence.