Ulysses lands, exhausted, on the beach of the Island of the Phaeacians. Rescued and welcomed to court by Nausicaa, daughter of king Alcinous and queen Arete, the hero tells his hosts the tale of his long journey and shipwreck.

This is the first example of the flashback in Western literature, an extremely successful writing technique often adopted by writers and film directors alike. It allows the narrator to add movement to the story in three ways:

  1. While showing in the present the outcome of earlier actions, it creates interest in the spectator regarding the events taking place in the past
  2. When, like in the Odyssey, a character tells his own story, this allows a shift from the third to the first person, opening a window on the feelings of the narrator
  3. The chronology of the story is no longer linear, requiring a higher level of engagement from the spectator. When the narrative rhythm appears to slow down, a flashback can be used to introduce new elements and give new energy to the story

While abusing this technique may cause the narrative rhythm to become excessively fragmented, one or two flashbacks, positioned and introduced with care, often enrich a tale with a higher degree of insight.

For more writing techniques see: the Zoom.