What is a flashback definition

Time within a film script can go in two ways: linear, when the story is told sequentially, and non-linear when it jumps between different time periods. That is why a scriptwriter needs to be able to write both linear and non-linear stories. A flashback is one of the most common techniques for creating a non-linear story.

So, what does flashback mean? One can define a flashback as a technique when the narration flashes back to the past at some point. When used at the right time, it can show an important episode of prehistory, recall some circumstance, or display emotion. The action of the main plot in the present at this moment is suspended for the viewer. Flashbacks might look like separate scenes with different color grading added during post-production video editing or some other effects to help those stand out from the main storyline.

Episode in the past flashbacks

Types of flashbacks

Based on their functionality, flashbacks can be divided into several types:

  • An episode in the past is the most common in cinema. It is used to give certain information necessary to understand the plot, reveal the character, or explain their backstory.
  • Explanatory flashbacks can either be part of the main storyline or create additional subplots. In heist films, it's often first shown how the operation goes, and only then it's explained exactly how the characters pulled it off. Soderbergh's "Ocean Trilogy" shows an example of such a flashback when the plan "fails" due to some mistake. Then, it becomes clear that the characters foresaw such a possibility from the very beginning.
  • Explanatory flashbacks
  • Gradual revelation includes a series of flashbacks. Each episode is arranged chronologically throughout the script, where the story is told over the course of the film. Thus, we gradually learn about the characters, their life or past events. In Lawrence's "I Am Legend", it isn't until the very end of the movie that the viewer finds out why the main character is all alone. As such, gradual revelation is one of the most effective flashback techniques.
  • Autobiographical flashbacks usually show an older person (the main character) at the beginning of the story. Then, this person acts as a narrator, and at the end, the story returns to the present time, where it ends. Movies like "Titanic", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", and "Slumdog Millionaire" use this technique to great effect.
Autobiographical flashbacks

Depending on what the flashback is supposed to convey and how it's presented, there are plenty of other types as well. The choice of type depends on the story's needs, the effect the author wants to achieve, and the emotional impact. Skillful use of flashbacks can enhance character development, reveal hidden motives, and deepen the audience's understanding of the narrative.

How to do a flashback in vlogs

However, flashbacks are not only used in "serious" cinematography – many content creators adopted this technique to make their videos look more interesting and hook the viewer's attention. Using flashbacks in vlogs can also add depth and storytelling elements to the content. Here are some ways to effectively use them as a common vlogger:

  • Introduction flashback: start your vlog with a short sequence that teases an exciting or interesting event from the past. This can pique viewers' curiosity and keep them engaged throughout the video.
  • Highlight reel: create a flashback sequence showcasing the best moments from previous vlogs or adventures. This can be a "best of" montage that reminds viewers of your journey so far.
  • Behind-the-scenes: share behind-the-scenes glimpses of how you prepared for a specific vlog or event in the past. This can include planning, packing, and setting up equipment.
  • Progression timeline: create a timeline of your vlogging journey using flashbacks. Show how your style, equipment, and content have evolved over time.
  • Travel recaps: when revisiting a location you've previously vlogged about, show a video of your previous trip to provide context and compare your experiences.
  • Travel vlog flashbacks
  • Celebratory milestones: use flashbacks to commemorate subscriber milestones or vlogging anniversaries. Reflect on your journey and express gratitude to your audience.

And, of course, you can make a "cinematic" flashback if you create story-driven videos. Most importantly, remember to use flashbacks strategically to enhance your storytelling and engage your viewers. They should serve a purpose and add value to your vlogs, whether it's for entertainment, reflection, or context.