Excellent Example of Flashback

Although I don’t get to see it every week, I’m a fan of ABC’s Missing, starring Ashley Judd as Becca Winstone, a former CIA agent. During this season, Becca traveled the world searching for her kidnapped adult son, Michael. Although she has been out of the business for years, her CIA training returns in full force as she realizes there is nothing she won’t do to get her son back (for a glimpse at the series, go here).

In last Thursday’s episode, the season finale, Becca and her loosely knit team capture “Violet,” who knows where Michael is. As active-CIA agent Dax Miller drills Violet, Becca is in the other room having flashbacks.

As far as I’m concerned, Nancy Kress wrote the best article about flashbacks in the March 2008 edition of Writer’s Digestbut the best example of its use was during last Thursday’s show, written by a guy named Gregory Poirier (check him out–he’s got an impressive list of credits to his name).

According to Kress, a flashback should follow a strong scene, which, during the show, was Violet’s dramatic capture.  The flashback scenes are short and immediately alert us to the different time and place. While Dax is in the other room interrogating Violet, Becca sees herself in the past as an active agent, when she and her partner/husband are ordered to deliver a bad guy to a group who would undoubtedly torture him. The night before they are to turn the guy in, the BG says, “Please don’t do this. You know what will happen.” It’s a simple statement, which is an interesting touch of authorial brilliance itself. BG isn’t begging, isn’t whining, isn’t showing signs of cowardice. He dreads what will happen, and it shows, but not to the extent the viewer is put off by him. We feel sympathy.

“It’s out of my hands,” Becca replies. But as she settles in for the night, you can see in her wakefulness that her conscience bothers her.

End of flashback.

Dax comes in, says Violet won’t talk. There’s a bit of discussion, and Becca slips into another short flashback.

As they load him into the truck, BG says again, don’t do this. Becca asks her husband, “What are we doing?”

“Our jobs,” he says.

End of flashback.

Other things go on, probably a commercial, I don’t remember–and I certainly wouldn’t recommend writing one into a novel. Then we return.

Becca and hubby deliver BG. He looks resigned as those now in control of him take him back into the unknown darkness. Becca’s in the driver’s seat of the truck, and guilt is killing her. “What did we just do,” she asks hubby.

Again, he says they did their job. “What happens to him now is none of our business.”

She doesn’t buy it, and the last of the series of flashbacks shows them returning to rescue BG, killing several armed American allies as they do–and definitely going against orders. They risked their lives and jobs to rescue someone from torture, something both of them loathed.

Each flashback illustrated a small segment in Mr. and Mrs. CIA Agent’s backstory. One event, presented in a series of short clips, but the clips spoke volumes. Because of them, we know to what extreme Becca hates torture.

But she loves her son.

Dax returns to the room. He, as an active CIA agent, has exhausted his means to get Violet to talk. The implication is clear: Becca is a private citizen with CIA training. How badly does she want to find her son?

I’ll let you know Wednesday.


Related posts:

Lesson in Suspense” (#2 in the Missing series)

Action/Reaction” (#3 in the Missing series)

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Excellent Example of Flashback

  1. joannesher says:

    No commercials in novels? Bummer! 😉

    GREAT post, Linda. May have to try this series.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      I’m not sure it was renewed for next season. When I “Googled” the series, I saw where ABC cut it for next year, but the season finale definitely left hints they’d be back. I guess I’ll just have to wait to see.


  2. Yes, it sounds well done. Each short segment of a single, longer episode spaced perfectly between scenes in the present. Nice example and explanation, Lind.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Yep, that’s how you do it. The flashbacks were relevant to the story’s present time, too. Having the woman interrogated at the same time as those flashbacks about torture raised the vital question: What will Becca do?


  3. lynnmosher says:

    I LOVE that show. It’s tightly written and acted. Well, I think it is. The flashbacks were great. And I did read that they cancelled it! Boo! Hiss!


  4. patgarcia says:

    Hi Linda,
    I have just nominated your blog for the Beautiful Blogger Award. If you decide to accept, please stop by my WordPress blog on Apple technology and you will receive further instructions.


  5. Sounds like a good show! I haven’t watched any of its episodes, but it sounds like an interesting departure from the usual round of crime shows.


  6. ceciliamariepulliam says:

    That was timely. I just added a flashback to my WIP. After reading this, I want to re-evaluate the scene and see if it needs revision – which I think it does…Thank you!


    • Linda Yezak says:

      I liked the way he did it. The contrast between her flashbacks and what was “currently” happening was great, and it certainly did its job of building suspense!


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