Use bridge to transition from flashback to present

Sometimes when reading a story, readers find themselves doing a double take and re-reading a page or two. This usually occurs because readers are no longer able to make sense of the narration. They’ve lost their way and are backtracking.

As an author, your job is to lead readers through the story. If readers get lost, they may become confused over what the story is about, hence reducing your tale’s effectiveness. When readers are lost, the fictional dream is broken, and if a genre work such as science fiction and fantasy, that’s detrimental. Many readers who’ve lose their way may simply quit reading your story and move on to another author.

Usually readers get lost when the writer switches scenes but doesn’t adequately signal this is occurring. The problem usually is easy enough to resolve – simply put a blank line of text between the two scenes or start a new chapter.

Going in and out of flashbacks, however, doesn’t allow the writer to utilize either strategy. Instead, the writer has to utilize a bridge, which is a phrase or sentence that links two different scenes. This also is known as a segue or a transition.

Consider this passage, which ends in a flashback:

Lyle gasped at the sight of his stricken father. As a child, he heard a faint crying in the quiet. Creeping down the stairs, he peeked about the living room entry into the kitchen, spied him flat across the tile, lowing like a calf upon a distant field. He did not know what to do, was too small to save him. With a long, drawn sigh, the young boy stepped back and ever so softly returned to his room.

Lyle kneeled at his father’s side. “What do you want me to do, Dad?” There was a long pause, filled with no sound but Carl Steinar’s occasional sobs. Then Lyle continued. “Well, Dad? Do you want me to let you kill yourself?” The old man did not respond, remained distant as an uneasy dog. Outside, wind randomly struck at the chimes hanging upon the porch.


You probably found the passage confusing. Even though you were told that it would include a flashback, knowing exactly when it came back to the time frame that the story is being narrated in was unclear, at least initially.

But now consider the same passage with a couple of bridges:

Lyle gasped at the sight of his stricken father. It reminded him of many years ago when as a child he heard a faint crying in the quiet. Creeping down the stairs, he peeked about the living room entry into the kitchen, spied him flat across the tile, lowing like a calf upon a distant field. He did not know what to do, was too small to save him. With a long, drawn sigh, the young boy stepped back and ever so softly returned to his room.

Fourteen years later, Lyle kneeled at his father’s side. “What do you want me to do, Dad?” There was a long pause, filled with no sound but Carl Steinar’s occasional sobs. Then Lyle continued. “Well, Dad? Do you want me to let you kill yourself?” The old man did not respond, remained distant as an uneasy dog. Outside, wind randomly struck at the chimes hanging upon the porch.


The bridges It reminded him of many years ago when as a child and Fourteen years later helped you as a reader to understand that the story’s time and location was shifting.

When writing, ensure that the bridge is smooth and unobtrusive. You don’t want to draw attention to the transition itself but instead make it part of the story’s natural flow.