Some of my personal favorite films, for story and script, include flashback sequences. These screenwriting elements are powerful and allow audiences the opportunity to time travel to specific points within the primary character’s life. While these elements are interesting and intriguing, if they are not carried out in a particular manner, then your entire script will suffer. Throughout my professional experience as a screenwriter, I’ve had many discussions regarding flashback sequences and the techniques required to successfully deliver these elements with industry professionals. While each screenwriter, producer, agent had a varied response, the overwhelming consensus was to trigger flashbacks through the use of a transitional device.
Transitional devices in the realm of screenwriter provide audiences with a cue that a flashback will occur while simultaneously building mystery as these devices hint at deeper emotional meanings.
Flashback Transitional Devices Defined
Have you ever cleaned out your attic when a relic of your childhood suddenly appears out of a dusty cardboard box? Upon seeing this item your mind is immediately brought back to the innocence of your childhood. Perhaps memories you haven’t thought of in decades rush to the forefront of your mind or you immediately relive a traumatic experience. Regardless of the contents of this memory trigger, this object was used as a transitional device within your own brain.
In the scope of screenwriting, this truth remains sturdy. The only difference is the scene that was brought up in your memory is not only shared internally with yourself. Rather, the memories this transitional device are showcased through the art of screenwriting.
Selecting and Using a Transitional Device
The most important rule to remember when utilizing a transitional device to trigger a flashback is to ensure the device has a deep emotional connection with the character or scene. Don’t simply zoom into a cup of tea to initiate a flashback sequence. Rather, zoom into this cup of tea and at the beginning of the flashback sequence have a cup of tea play a heavy role in the scenario.
When utilizing a transitional device, it’s as if you’re using a specific item, phrase or smell as a time traveling device. This special device holds the power to rush audiences to a different moment and time within their characters’ life. Be selective with the transitional devices you choose to use and make sure there is always a connection with this device from the past to the present.