How To Write A PTSD Flashback In Deep POV by Lisa Hall-Wilson - Canada
Flashbacks are super popular among writers, but less popular among editors and agents. Partly because some writers call info dumps and backstory “a flashback.” If you’re interested in diving deep into writing flashbacks caused by trauma and PTSD, read on because I have some good tips for you!
Quick Recap: What Is Deep Point Of View?
Deep point of view is a stylistic choice to remove the perceived distance between the reader and the point of view character. This technique puts the reader IN the story as it’s happening. The reader knows everything the point of view character knows/sees/hears/etc. but that’s all they know.
If you’re not sure if you’re writing in deep point of view or not, check out this guest post I did at Writers In The Storm and then come back here and learn more about writing flashbacks in deep pov.
What Is A Flashback?
In my online classes, I often get asked for help in writing two kinds of flashbacks. One kind of flashback is the idea of a glimpse into a character’s past, basically a cut scene to something’s that happened before. This is usually written as a dream or as backstory. These are really hard to do well in deep pov because much of the time they come across as author intrusion.
Be objective about whether the reader needs to know ALL of that info in one place. My personal rule for backstory is to answer one question for the reader and leave them with two more. To drip in the backstory a sentence, a phrase, at a time. If you’ve got a paragraph, two paragraphs, a whole chapter — that’s just a look at the past, for the sake of looking at the past, “kill your darlings.” Yes, other authors use them, and they’re not wrong per se, but there’s a great post here by K.M. Weiland about writing this type of flashbacks.
Flashbacks As A Symptom Of Past Trauma
I’ve written before about writing trauma backstories and even writing PTSD in deep pov. So, let’s dig a little deeper into flashbacks as a symptom of PTSD as a storytelling device.
First, please do some research into PTSD before tritely using flashbacks. According to Psychiatry.com PTSD occurs in 7%-8% of the population and is twice as likely in women as men. PTSD makes a great source of internal conflict in fiction especially as general awareness of the condition grows, but don’t be a source of mis-information. Don’t cheat your reader! **climbs off soapbox**
We want to show and not tell, but deep pov takes this to all new levels. So, how do we show a flashback so readers know that’s what’s happening without TELLING them it’s a flashback?
Here’s the thing: a flashback is your body reliving the worst event of your life over and over without any warning or control to stop it from happening. It’s more like a nightmare than a memory, because it can be completely immersive and block out all sense of time and place.
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