Screenwriting rules?

Hai guys ♥

There’s something that’s been troubling me for a few days so I’m eager to hear what you all think. Are flashbacks lazy in screenplays?

In nearly every script I’ve written I have used flashbacks.
It’s a tool I use to create mystery within a certain character, usually the main.
I will introduce a character and not allow the audience to know anything about that character until a flashback. The character will often be an odd ball in some way, an outcast,  making the spectator question his or her life, personality and choices.

Let’s take Frozen Lake – the whole script is woven with flashbacks.

Let me pitch my script for you:
Frozen Lake is set in 2075, 30 years after nuclear war has broke out and irradiated the world. Only 2000 humans remain. They live in underground in a facility know as the Sanctum and are forbidden to venture to the surface.
Fourteen-year-old Maya dreams of seeing the outside world and attempts to escape the Sanctum; a crime punishable by death.
She is caught and thrown into prison where she meets a mysterious Russian prison in his 50s named Afon. Maya convinces him to break his thirty years of confinment and escape the Sanctum’s prison with her. Afon takes it upon himself to protect the teen and show her the world outside, including his hometown: The Frozen Lake.

So here the outcast/mystery character is Afon.
How did he get into the prison?
Why does he want to help Maya?
Why does he suddenly care now about leaving the Sanctum?
What’s at the Frozen Lake?
This is what I hope my audience will be asking.
Keep them intrigued into what happens next.

I answer these questions using flashbacks of Afon’s life before his prison sentence. And I usually insert them when he falls asleep to pass them off as “dream” sequences.

Is that lazy of me?
I have heard quite a few people (writers, filmmakers, the likes) call flashbacks lazy; that a writer should insert backstory into the dialogue and action.
I can see the logic in that.

But why are there rules when it comes to writing?
It’s not like maths or science where there is only only formal to achieve the end product.
It’s creative and it’s art – how can there be a right and a wrong way?
Can a script only be good if it follows the three act structure?
Does it have to have a beginning, middle and end?
and is it always necessary to have good versus bad?
We’re told never to use clichés and tropes, but also to never stray from the rules.
We’re told to be original, yet the most of the films in the cinema right now are remakes.
We’re told to use our voice, but to reiterate the same messages and values embed into our society.

It’s okay to be different & it’s okay to break the rules ★

or maybe I’m just spouting all this because I can’t let go of the idea of using flashbacks in my screenplay.


11 thoughts on “Screenwriting rules?

  1. Sherlock uses lots of flashbacks to explain mysteries at the end of an episode instead of weaving them in throughout. Maybe a happy medium? There are no rules!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Flashbacks are only lazy in certain contexts. They can be a great strength for a story, like in Tarantino’s films. Much of his films contain flashbacks. It really does depend on the story you’re trying to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think flashbacks can be cool if you do them in a unique way. I like how the new Mad Max does these quick jumps to an image from Max’s past when he is troubled by them, but it’s just for a second. Or it can be cool if they are slowly unraveled over time (like Shutter Island) or have some other artistic quality to them. At the very least, I would say don’t make it feel like a flashback with the cliche blurry effects or whatever. I like when directors just show the moment and move forward in some cool way.

    Just my thoughts. Best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughts 🙂 Shutter Island was kind of the thing I was going for. Revealing the character’s past slowly over time so that the character’s actions and emotions are a bit of an enigma. And don’t worry – I hate those blurry white border things that put on flashbacks. Will definitely avoid! Thanks for the advice and the comment 🙂


  4. I prefer flashbacks over characters telling about their own story, it makes you feel closer to them I think. Just go ahead and do what you feel is good! There are no rules!

    Liked by 1 person

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