Reflection: Flashforward

Reflecting about flashback the other week got me thinking about the opposite: flashforward.  A flashforward is like a flashback, but you instead see future events – something yet to happen.  Naturally, these aren’t quite as common as flashbacks.

But the potential of a flashforward, the reader knows what will happen before it happens.  It may sound like a spoiler, but in the case of a flashforward, a reader is meant to know.  They know where the character ends up, but the story is about how they get there.  It’s about the journey, and not the destination.

The journey can have unexpected twists – the reader can be left wondering how they end up getting there.  Or maybe some detail can be omitted from the flashforward, which could end up being revealed as part of a twist later.

Or maybe I’m flashing forward beyond the scope of the story, to something that happens a long time after the main story ends – showing where characters will ultimately end up further down the line.  If I did something like this, I could show how the events of the story help to shape the person that character will become.

Knowing where the character ends up ultimately means the reader would look at them a different way, and changes their perspective on the story.

It’s kind of the same when you’re re-reading a story.  When you know where the story’s going, you see things you wouldn’t otherwise.  But with flashforward, I can make the reader see these things the first time around.

But I tend to see flashforward get misused a lot too.  It’s becoming increasingly common on TV shows to begin with a flashforward, and then stating “X hours earlier”, showing the rest of the show.  Sometimes, this works.  But other times, I’ve seen it as a cheap and unnecessary attempt to hook viewers by showing them what will happen, when it has no other apparent purpose.

And flashforwards can end up more confusing than flashback, especially if both are used in the same story.  I find they can be more difficult to add – a flashback can easily be explained by having a character reflect on past events, but nobody knows what the future will be.  Done poorly, this can break immersion.

Flashforwards are definitely rarer than flashback, but they are a writing tool that has great potential.  It’s something I want to explore further in some of my future stories, I just need to come up with the right idea first.  For now, though, White Rakogis, signing off!

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