What Is a Flashforward? Definition & 10+ Examples

Ever wondered how storytellers can captivate you by providing intriguing glimpses into the future? One exciting narrative technique they employ is known as a flashforward.

At its core, the technique of flashforward is about enriching the narrative experience. By revealing glimpses of what may transpire, it entices the audience to piece together the story’s puzzle, leaving them with thought-provoking questions and eager to see how events unfold.

From unexpected plot twists to revelations about characters, flashforwards can be an effective way to tease audiences and keep them engaged in the story. In the coming paragraphs, we will further explore the definition of flashforward and dive into some famous examples, highlighting the power of this storytelling device.

Let’s get started:

What Is a Flashforward?

A flashforward, as the name suggests, is a technique used in literature, film, and television where an event in the future is shown or alluded to before returning to the present chronological narrative. This literary and narrative device differs from its counterpart, the flashback, which presents events in the past.


The etymology of the term “flashforward” can be traced back to its similarity with the term “flashback.” Both words are compound words formed by combining “flash” and “forward” or “back.” The flashforward, which became popular in the late 20th century, essentially mirrors the effects created by the much older flashback technique.

The term “flashforward” was first coined by British playwright and novelist J.B. Priestley in 1929. He utilized the technique in his play “Dangerous Corner” to offer readers and audiences a glimpse into the future of the story’s characters.

It is fascinating to see how the term “flashforward” has evolved from its origins in the 1920s to its widespread use across various forms of storytelling today.

Some examples of flashforwards in various media forms include:

  • Literature: Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five features a non-linear narrative with multiple flashforwards and flashbacks, as the main character becomes “unstuck in time.”
  • Television: The television series Lost used flashforwards extensively in its final three seasons to show events that would transpire in the characters’ lives after they left the island.
  • Film: In The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone’s rise to power is depicted through both flashbacks and flashforwards, juxtaposing his current actions with the future consequences of those actions.

Examples of Flashforward


In literature, flashforward is often used to create suspense and foreshadow events. Here are a few notable examples:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: In this novel, Nick Carraway narrates about the titular character’s mysterious past before revealing it in a flashforward sequence.
  • Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold: The story revolves around the murder of Santiago Nasar while employing flashforwards to reveal the tragic outcome of the protagonist’s fate.

The use of flashforwards in literature adds depth and intrigue, keeping the reader invested in the narrative.

"A good flashforward is like a time machine, skipping the boring parts of life and getting right to the good stuff." — Anonymous

How to Identify Effective Flashforwards in Literature

  • Look for a sudden change in time, usually indicated by phrases like “in the future” or “years later.”
  • Identify the purpose of the flashforward, whether it’s to develop characters, reveal plot twists, or foreshadow events.
  • Notice if the flashforward contributes to the story’s overall theme or message.

Film and Television

Flashforwards are also employed in film and TV, providing audiences with fascinating glimpses into the future. Some examples include:

  • The TV series Lost: The show used flashforwards, alongside flashbacks, to create a complex and engaging narrative.
  • The movie Run Lola Run: This film features multiple flashforward sequences, allowing the audience to experience various possible outcomes for the protagonist.
  • Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino’s iconic film uses flashforwards to weave together various intersecting storylines, showcasing the consequences of each character’s actions before revealing how the events unfold.

These examples demonstrate the power of flashforwards in creating gripping and dynamic narratives in visual media.

Fun Fact! In the iconic TV series Breaking Bad, the flashforward scene of Walter White celebrating his 52nd birthday alone in a diner initially puzzled viewers, but eventually played a crucial role in the show's finale.

Visual Art

Flashforward techniques can also be found in visual art, especially in comics and graphic novels. Some examples include:

  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen: This graphic novel utilizes flashforwards to showcase the character Dr. Manhattan’s perception of time.
  • Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira: The manga incorporates flashforward sequences to reveal the dystopian future of Neo-Tokyo.

In these instances, flashforwards help provide context and depth to the visual storytelling, enhancing the overall experience for the viewer.

Functions of Flashforward

The concept of flashforward can be found in various forms of literature and media, including novels, plays, films, and television series. As a narrative tool, flashforwards are used for several purposes in storytelling:

For Narrative Structure

Flashforwards are a helpful narrative tool that assists in creating tension and anticipation for the reader. By providing glimpses into the future, they tease potential outcomes and cause readers to speculate about how the story will unfold.

This technique can be used to generate curiosity and maintain the reader’s engagement. In some instances, flashforwards contribute to the story’s thematic elements.

Example: A flashforward can foreshadow an impending danger or reveal consequences of characters’ decisions. This adds weight and significance to the story’s overall message.

For Character Development

Flashforwards serve as a medium for character development, allowing readers to gain insight into a character’s aspirations, fears, and future evolution. By offering a preview of their fate, this technique provides context for their actions and choices in the present narrative. Furthermore, it can create dramatic irony when the reader knows the outcome but the character does not.

In several cases, flashforwards act as a catalyst for change in the character’s journey. Witnessing their future experiences may compel them to reconsider their current path, creating a turning point in the story.

This enhances readers’ emotional investment in the characters by showcasing their growth and transformation.

To Generate Tension and Maintain Interest

Flashforwards can create a curiosity among the audience about how the narrative will arrive at the depicted future scene or if it will be altered as the plot unfolds.

Variations and Subtypes of Flashforwards

Dreams and Visions

Flashforwards can often take the form of dreams or visions, offering glimpses of a character’s potential future.

Example: A protagonist may dream about a significant event that sparks their motivation to take action. These flashforwards, while not always accurate, play a crucial role in driving the narrative.

Time Travel

In science fiction, time travel is a popular device that incorporates flashforwards. Characters journeying to the future experience events directly, which can significantly impact both their present and future choices. This type of flashforward highlights the interconnected nature of time within the story.

Alternate Realities

Flashforwards can explore alternate realities or parallel universes, showing possible outcomes if characters made different decisions.

These variations can be instrumental in emphasizing themes like the butterfly effect or multiverse theories. In this subtype, the flashforward events may or may not come to fruition in the main narrative.

Flashforward vs. Foreshadowing

Flashforward and foreshadowing are both literary devices used by authors to impact the narrative structure and create suspense, but they differ in their approaches. Here, we’ll discuss the distinctions between these two techniques.

Flashforward involves presenting events that will occur in the future, situated ahead of the current events in the story. It allows readers a glimpse into the characters’ destiny, either explicitly or abstractly.

This device can set the tone for the rest of the narrative, and sometimes even the ultimate resolution is revealed to the reader.

Foreshadowing, on the other hand, involves hinting at future events without clearly revealing them. It creates anticipation and builds tension through subtle clues or suggestions. Readers are often enticed to decipher the hints and attempt to predict what will transpire later in the story.

Literary DevicePurposeMethod
FlashforwardShow a specific future eventDirectly reveal scene
ForeshadowingSuggest a possible future eventHints, symbols, or clues

A few key differences in these two techniques are as follows:

  • Purpose

Flashforward often sets the tone of the story by revealing the outcome. Foreshadowing intensifies suspense by providing hints without explicitly disclosing the future events.

  • Presentation

Flashforward is typically direct, clearly presenting events that will transpire in the future. However, in foreshadowing, future events are only hinted at, leaving room for uncertainty.

  • Emotional impact

Flashforward can invoke a variety of emotions depending on the nature of the future event, whereas foreshadowing primarily creates a sense of anticipation or tension in the reader.

Flashforwards vs. Flashbacks

Flashforwards and flashbacks are both narrative techniques used in storytelling to provide insights into a character’s experiences or to reveal important plot elements. While they are similar in purpose, they differ in direction and impact on the reader.


Flashforwards refer to a jump in the narrative to a future event, giving the reader a glimpse of what is to come. This technique can be used to create anticipation, build curiosity, and set up dramatic tension in the story.

An example of flashforward is seen in the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, where The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his own death.

On the other hand, flashbacks involve a return to a past event or series of events, providing the reader with background information to help contextualize and understand the present situation.

Flashbacks can serve multiple purposes, including revealing a character’s motivation, explaining the origins of a conflict, or shedding light on past relationships.

An example of flashback is seen in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, where Scout Finch reflects on lessons learned from her father, Atticus Finch.

Impact on the Reader

In terms of how they impact the reader, flashforwards can create a sense of suspense, as the reader is eager to find out how the events will unfold and lead to the future scene.

Flashbacks, on the other hand, can evoke feelings of nostalgia or empathy, as the reader gains deeper understanding and connection with the characters and their past experiences.

To summarize:

FlashforwardFuture eventsCreate anticipation, build curiosity, set up tension
FlashbackPast eventsProvide background, reveal motivation, explain origins

Flashforward Techniques

Using Flashforwards: When and Why

Flashforwards can be a powerful narrative tool, allowing writers to:

  • Reveal glimpses of their characters’ future.
  • Create suspense.
  • Offer contrasting perspectives.

They are particularly effective when used to explore the consequences of a character’s actions or to foreshadow significant events. Typically, flashforwards are reserved for pivotal moments in the plot, adding depth and intrigue to the narrative.

How to Create Engaging and Effective Flashforwards

  • Step 1: Choose a significant event or moment to foreshadow.
  • Step 2: Use vivid, descriptive language to craft the scene.
  • Step 3: Ensure the time difference between the present and the future is clear.
  • Step 4: Connect the flashforward to the main storyline through motifs, symbols, or themes.
Pro Tip: Remember to maintain a clear and consistent narrative flow, avoiding abrupt transitions that may leave readers confused.

Common Pitfalls and Clichés to Avoid

  • Overusing the technique, which can feel tiresome or gimmicky.
  • Providing excessive exposition, causing the flashforward to lose impact.
  • Relying on ambiguous or confusing imagery hindering readers’ comprehension.
  • Allowing the flashforward to overshadow the core plot, leading to imbalanced storytelling.

Tips for Incorporating Flashforwards in Your Own Work

When integrating flashforwards into your writing, consider the following:

  • Balance: Ensure that flashforwards complement, rather than dominate, your narrative.
  • Relevance: Ensure the flashforward provides meaningful insight into the story or characters.
  • Clarity: Make sure time shifts are easily distinguishable for an enjoyable reading experience.
  • Variation: Experiment with the length and format of your flashforwards to maintain interest.

By adhering to these principles, writers can effectively wield the power of flashforwards, enriching their narratives and providing readers with a captivating experience.

How to Choose the Right Variation for Your Story

It’s essential to consider the most effective flashforward variation for your narrative. Ask yourself:

  • Does the flashforward contribute to character development?
  • Does it enhance the pacing or tension of the story?
  • Does it align with the overall themes and genre of the piece?

Use these questions as a guide to select an appropriate flashforward type that best supports your storytelling goals.

A Point to Ponder

As a writer, consider whether using a more unconventional variation will enhance your narrative.

Experimenting with different subtypes and styles can help create a more engaging and thought-provoking story. Consider challenging established norms of flashforwards to create a unique and memorable experience for your readers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can a flashforward be used effectively in storytelling?

To effectively use a flashforward in storytelling:

1. Ensure the flashforward is relevant to the overall story and has a clear purpose.
2. Make sure the flashforward is easily recognizable as a jump to the future.
3. Consider pacing and placement within the narrative to maintain reader engagement.

Can a story be told entirely in flashforwards?

While it’s possible to tell a story entirely in flashforwards, it can be challenging to maintain a clear and engaging narrative structure. However, this approach can provide a unique perspective and add novelty to the story.


Throughout this exploration, the definition and examples of flashforwards have been examined. Flashforwards are a valuable literary device that can provide insight into future events, helping to create anticipation, tension, or to introduce a surprise element to readers.

It is essential to remember that well-crafted flashforwards contribute an added layer of depth to a story, allowing readers to become more engaged and invested in the characters and their fates. They can also help in building an intriguing narrative structure that keeps readers on their toes.

While examples provided in the exploration serve as inspiration, readers are encouraged to explore and experiment with flashforwards in their own stories. The possibilities are endless, and by trying different approaches, one might discover unique and powerful ways to use this technique.

May this serve as a springboard for creativity — because who wouldn’t want a glimpse of their characters’ futures that leaves their readers wanting more?

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant. When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.