Q&A: Do I Need Italics for Flashbacks?

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Q: I used italics in a scene with a flashback, but my critique partner said I should never use italics. Here’s the part I put in italics:

He sat in the cold hospital waiting room, feeling numb. This was just like when Mom died. We did all we could, the doctor had said. 

I thought characters’ memories were supposed to be italicized. Now I’m confused. What’s the right way to do this?

A: Confusion is understandable, for a several reasons.

First, you’re not the only one who’s confused. Your critique partner is—I’ll be generous and say “overstating the case.” Whenever someone gives you a never in regards to writing, your inner warning klaxon should go off. Writing is an art, and cannot be governed by rules involving always or never. Continue reading

Limit Flashbacks in Narrative Nonfiction

The use of flashbacks in narrative nonfiction is similar to flashbacks in fiction.

Flashbacks are used only when necessary and are engaging.

A flashback is a dramatized scene that looks back to a time before the story started. Now here’s the thing — if your readers need to know the information in the flashback, why don’t you just put it in chronological order?

There are plenty of reasons not to. You may want to start at a crisis point, backtrack to how you got there, then pick up the story again and move forward. Continue reading