Thursday, 26 January 2012

How to Signal a Flashback

Paddy sent in the following email: I'm reading a Jennifer Johnston novel at the moment.  I notice that whenever she goes into flashback, she uses italics. Is this necessary, desirable or purely at the discretion of the author?

The important point is to avoid confusing your readers. The author has to signal that the writing is moving into a flashback scene. You can do this by using italics, as Jennifer Johnston does, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

Leaving a clear line of space and not indenting the opening paragraph signals to the reader that you have moved to a new scene. As long as your opening sentence shows clearly that we are now reliving a moment from the past, you don’t need to use italics.

Having said that, lots of writers prefer to show the entire flashback in italics – it’s up to the individual author and also the publisher’s house style.

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