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    How To Format Flashbacks In A Screenplay


    Here is an example of formatting a transition to a flashback and a flashback scene:

    INT. SAIGON HOTEL ROOM – DAY (1983)

    Kim gets up from the sofa. Crosses the room to the window. Gazes down at people
    walking along the street. She stares at a mother and a young girl about her
    own age.

                                                                                                           FLASHBACK TO:

    INT. SAIGON HOSPITAL – DAY (1981)

    Kim's mother is in a hospital bed. Kim is holding her hand, squeezing hard.

                                                    KIM
                              Mother, mother open your eyes.

    Kim drops her mother's lifeless hand. She stares with unbelieving eyes.
    A voice calls her name, "Kim! Kim!"

    BACK TO PRESENT

    Kim turns away from the window. Steve is calling her name.

                                                    STEVE
                              Kim! Kim! Are you okay?

                                                    KIM
                             
    Yes.

                                                    STEVE
                             
    You seemed far away when I called you.

    In the above example, the present-time scene transitions into a flashback. Kim gazes out the window and sees a mother and daughter who evoke a memory of her own mother.

    The words, FLASHBACK TO (all caps), appear at the right of the page, indicating that the next scene is a flashback. The flashback scene itself is formatted like any other scene. In this example, it is set in a Saigon hospital. We see Kim's memory of her dying mother. So the audience learns what happened to Kim's mother and how it affected her.

    Notice how the flashback transitions back to the present-time scene. Kim hears a voice calling her name, calling her back to the present. The words, BACK TO PRESENT (all caps), appear on the left side of the page, indicating that we are leaving the flashback and returning to the present time. The transition is smooth because we see Kim turn away from the window where her memory was first evoked in a flashback. She turns away because a voice distracts her from her memory and makes her focus on the present time.

    By reading screenplays with flashbacks, you'll learn how to transition into and out of them and when to use them effectively. They shouldn't be used indiscriminately. It's best to show action in present time and use flashback scenes only to give the audience information it can't get from present-time action.

    To write a flashback scene, ask yourself several questions:

    1.) What does the audience need to know about the protagonist's past that cannot be shown
          in a present-time scene?

    2.) Where does the flashback take place? Describe the geographic location.

    3.) When does the flashback memory take place? Pinpoint the time period. Did the event
          take place in the character's childhood, several months ago, or many years ago?

    4.) Who are the other characters in the flashback and why are they important?

    5.) How is the character's memory evoked as a flashback? This is known as the transition
          into the flashback. Does a place, sound, picture, or present event trigger a memory?
         How does the character return (transition) to the present from his memory, or flashback?
         Does someone call his name, telephone him, tap him on the shoulder?

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