Flashbacks

A fellow writer and I were talking about flash backs.  Flash backs takes us back to a time before the current moment of the story, be it novel, TV show, film, etc.  And, as this zombie dog growls, there's a guideline in storytelling that states don't use them.

The reason is simple.  The threat of death to the character having the flashback is removed.  Makes sense. Makes even more sense when the reader/audience is supposed to be connected to the main character, the heroine.  We see a lot of supporting characters die.  Rarely do we see the main character die before the climax.

Then the hero can die.  Otherwise, who will finish the story?

The problem is exacerbated when we're reading a series, watching Showtime's Dexter (I watched four seasons knowing Dexter wasn't gonna die), or a movie franchise.

But can flashbacks work?  Yes.  Here are some examples:

Pulp Fiction

Memento

Slumdog Millionaire

Pulp Fiction shows pieces of the story out of order.  And we don't know who to really support or connect to until the pieces start to fall together like when loyalties form between enemies Butch Coolidge, Bruce Willis, and Marsellus Wallace, Ving Rhames.  Where before we were rooting for Butch to get outta there before Marsellus Wallace gets to his ass.  Then a cop has Marsellus Wallace's ass, literally, after being kidnapped.  Butch is about to escape but decides to save Marsellus Wallace's ass, literally.  And at the end of that scene, we feel for both characters.

Memento directed by Jonathan Nolan, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, was critically acclaimed and has a cult following.  Basically, it shows the movie from end to beginning because the main character has short term memory loss.  A piece of genus.  Here, the end scene shows someone shot, but we don't know who.  And as we watch the story barrel to the beginning, we're in anticipation of who died and what happened.

I loved Slumdog Millionaire.  Talk about a sleeper hit!  Most of the movie depends on flashbacks.  But the goal is to figure out whether Jamal Malik, played by Dav Patel, was cheating.  As we go along for the ride, tension rises because of the things that happen to Jamal, and whether the supporting characters will live.  Some do.  Some don't.

So do flashbacks work?  Hell yeah.

Just as long it serves the story.

Do you know any other movies, shows, or books that depend on flashbacks?  How about any movies, shows, or books that have the main character die before the climax?