By: Laurie Sanders
On the surface it would seem that a flashback and a memory are the same thing...and to an extent that's true. Both a character's memory and a flashback deal with something that happened in the character's past. Though both a memory and a flashback deal with the past, the handling of a flashback is vastly different from a simple remembrance. So too are the situations in which you might use each approach to conveying the past.
A Character's Memory
A character's memory is essentially a brief, reported (aka told as opposed to shown) rendition of the character's past experience. For example:
Jack's finger traced the gray photograph as he remembered the accident that had taken his baby sister's life. It had happened on a gray Sunday when his parents were at church and he had been tasked with watching Jennifer. He'd left her watching a rerun of Bewitched and had gone to the kitchen to fix peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. When he'd returned to the living room Jennifer had been gone. He'd looked high and low before finding her lifeless body face down in the drainage ditch that ran behind their house.
There are some specifics in this memory...but it is still a telling of what he remembers. As you read it, you have a feeling of being told about the events of this day, but there is no sense of experiencing it with him.
Another thing that is true of the memory vs. the flashback is that with a memory the character remains fully present in the present day scene. He doesn't drift away from the present story in order to relive the past scene as he would with a full fledged flashback.
A Character's Flashback
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