OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Writing Better Flashbacks


Written by Xexes, one of the judges for the 2012 Flashback week competition

Flashback week contained many, many entries, and quite a few judges. Every judge is sure to have different opinions, but here are some thoughts I had, along with some tips and common traps.

Spelling And Grammar

While the Flashback Contest had no rules regarding spelling and grammar (“SPaG”), the contest is about writing – and the English language has plenty of rules and nuances. SPaG issues get in the way of reading the story properly, distract the reader, disrupt train of thought, and sometimes even convey the wrong notion. While your fellow roleplayers probably won’t mind them in a roleplay, the Flashback Contest is a contest ; you are competing against your peers.

Dialog Stories

There’s nothing wrong with dialog, per-se. However, it isn’t always the best to solely tell a story. Metaphors, similes, and colorful descriptives aren’t going to show up in a back-and-forth. You rarely get to know the speaker, and instead rely on their words (possibly embellished or an outright lie!) to figure out who they are. Actions and consequences usually have much meaning if they are merely spoken However, one of the things that dialog does get right is that it usually conveys the proper sense of gravity and meaning; the character usually speaks why this or that was so important to them. A pure dialog story also puts the reader at risk of feeling like they are trying to comprehend an inside joke.

Written As A Continuation Of Your Roleplay

This common pitfall hinges slightly off the last. Not all judges are familiar with your story, your setting, or your character. Assuming that they are is an easy way to set yourself up for mass confusion.

No Gravity Of The Situation

Continuing from the above, readers may not know your character, and won’t have the fondness and adoration that you do. The pivoting point in your character’s life will be meaningless to the reader unless the gravity of the situation is conveyed. This was perhaps the most prevalent commonality of all the stories. Why this particular outcome matters, what difference it makes, how badly the poop hit the fan are all important parts of any story, if not the most enjoyable.


Chet recollects how big, angry, and dangerous the bear was

The Great Outdoors (1998) is an American comedy where John Candy plays Chet and tells a scary story by the fire, a great example of conveyed gravity. He tells of how a romantic night was spoiled by a grizzly bear. He elaborates on how big the bear was, how long his teeth were, how well the claws could slice… building up on how dangerous and terrifying the situation was. He and his new wife are in mortal danger, the bear is getting closer, it’s angry, and they’re all going to die! Here’s a horrible quality youtube clip.


Longer does not equal better! The goal of a word count is to help you tell your story, but not let you go too far. Telling an entire life’s story is hardly going to fit. This is good, as the purpose of the contest is to tell of a single flashback event. While it’s always necessary to elaborate on the details of why such an event is important, the elaborations probably shouldn’t be longer than the actual flashback.


Just because there is a word count does not mean you can’t elaborate on the details. The color, smell, and feel of grass can help the reader feel like they are in the middle of the story, rather than reading a conglomeration of mere words. It sets the mood, tone, and can make the story feel more pleasant.


The ending of a story is the most important part – even more than its beginning. Figuring out a good place to leave off can be difficult, as wish fulfilment is always beckoning in the author’s mind. The desire to tie the story neatly to the character’s present state of existence is also a temptation. But, perhaps the best place to leave off a flashback isn’t any of these, but rather, at the end of the flashback’s event. A poor ending, or a story that doesn’t end soon enough, can mar the entire story’s memorability. The ending is the last thing that the reader reads, so it will be what they remember the most.