Flashbacks, Backstory & Reveals

Can someone point me to a good resource (or explain here) the specifics of how storytelling devices like backstory, flashbacks, and withholding information works, structurally, with the storyform?


  • In theory, is withholding information from the audience effectively the same as “glossing over” that part of the storyform? (i.e. Skipping over that part of the PSR or… misdirecting the audience while still showcasing something they’re not aware of yet, or aware of its meaning).
  • And secondly, when the information eventually is revealed later (be it via Flashback or Reveal of Info that affects the previous “missing” part of the storyform), is it revealed through that later part of the PSR, or is it really interjecting that missing piece of the storyform at this point in the timeline of the work?

Hope that makes sense, and thanks in advance!

You’re free to tell the story in whatever order you want. That is, you can start with Sign Post 2, then go to Sign Post 3, then flash back to Sign Post 1 before closing out with Sign Post 4. It’s not glossing over or skipping, it’s just revealing it to the audience out of order. The important thing is that it all make sense at the end when the audience knows the full actual order of events.


In addition to @Greg’s amazing post, I’d like to add the clarifying statement: All of the structure represents the actual chronological events of the story. The reveals, as Greg said, do not depend on that structure.

Although, in terms of storytelling, I recall an author saying: “If your narrator is first person and holds something back, then the character is a jerk, but if your narrator is third person and holds something back, the your [(referring to the author)] a jerk.” - Just something to keep in mind in your writing.


For sure, but to that I would ask: Doesn’t that also change the meaning of your story? Isn’t it important to tell the story (even if the audience isn’t aware it’s being told to them yet) in a certain and specific order?

What I’m wondering is like…
You’re moving through something like “Sense of Self,” but in the storytelling, your Character is maybe suppressing something about themselves… and the story moves on.

Then much later, you’re moving through some other element like… maybe some part of “Understanding,” and finally it’s conveyed to the audience what that missing piece of the story was.

Like… the moment in Inglorious Basterds where the American Spy reveals himself to the German officer without realizing it. Storyform-wise, that happens there… but the audience doesn’t know it.
We only know it later when we’re made to understand it.

So is that “glossing over” that beat in the storyform then effectively “covered” or “exposed” by another later beat? Irregardless of the fact that it still happened in the storyform NOT out of order.


No, you’re just telling the structure, in effect, the actual timeline, out of order. Clarification: It’s important that the actual events happen in a certain order. Not what order they are revealed in. It changes the feel, the so-called subjective meaning, but not the objective meaning. You can think of it as revealing the true meaning in such cases.

If you change the ordering of points of your argument, it may have a different effect on the audience, but it doesn’t really change the argument. If you change the points themselves, though, then you’ve changed the argument.

However, there is the caveat that if the reveal actually has an effect on the perspective at that moment, then it’s more likely structure. It really depends on how those reveals are meant to be used.


I guess that’s part of what I’m wondering. Are you actually telling the “timeline of events” by describing a storyform, or are you just describing simply the inequity the storyform represents, irregardless of whether or not there is a linear chronology to it?

For instance… does a film like Memento follow the PSR? Or is the PSR all jumbled up?

1 Like

I was actually working on a post that described the very movie! (I think.)

Isn’t there a novel version of this story that reads with the true order of events?

I remember a movie that basically plays all the events in reverse, storytelling. It probably is Memento. The novel of that same movie goes in straight order. The argument is the same in both. It’s more powerful in the first because the storytelling supported the argument in a metalogical sense. I haven’t fully examined the movie, but from other things, and my understanding of Dramatica, it more than likely follows the PSR using the true order of events.

The PSR is trickier, though, structurally, because it’s a more internal view of the story. However, it still considers the events in the actual order that they happen within the chronology of the story.

The structure should be seen as the logical progression of the argument, while the storytelling should be viewed as the way you wish to present said argument.

This example kind of makes that point for me, at least in the way that it is described here. The reveal makes clear what happened, and why things happened the way they did. That is, it explains a portion of the argument of which we were unaware. But, it didn’t really change what was being said; it only clarified things.

All this being said, there are stories where the flashbacks and reveals are part of the structure. Memento, if memory serves on which movie this is, would be an example of a story where they are not. I cannot currently think of an example of where they are, although thinking on it, I suspect the novel Where the Red Fern Grows probably has structural flashbacks.

I would recommend using the search feature of the forums, as I remember reading similar questions, and many of them had answers better than I might provide. I think one even had an answer from Chris.


No. Changing the order in which things are revealed changes audience reception, but not meaning. If the events were themselves to change order, and not just the in order in which they are revealed, then the message would change.

Your storyform is the source of conflict. But the story itself is an exploration of that conflict in an attempt
To solve the problem. Because I don’t remember enough about Inglorious Basterds to discuss it, let’s say a misunderstood event takes place in the course of SP 1. But we don’t actually see the conflict play out until Sign Post 2. In that case I’d say SP 2 just is the place where Understanding is being explored. But it’s also possible, I’d think, for that event AND the conflict to take place in SP 1 and the audience notnrealize it until SP2, but I don’t have a good example of that.

Theoretically, I’d say that Mementos PSR beats should appear in the appropriate Sign Posts. So when the last event of the story is the first thing we see, that should match whatever the PSR would have for that last act.


Thanks for the explanation and suggestion to search the forums. It was hard to pinpoint this exact issue, but I did find one post in which an answer from Jim seems to satisfy part of my question, in regard to “flashbacks” (which I guess are the same thing as telling a story out of order?) Same thing you said, basically. Thank you.

So do “reveals” and “misdirecting the audience” basically work the same way?

Or is that really just the author’s discretion to move through the PSR beat near the first Signpost of something like “Hans deceives Anna” by instead making it appear that they’re falling in love for REAL, and then use some other beat in the last Signpost, like maybe something about Truth to reveal the author was misleading you?

I guess in short I’m just really curious about approaches to “engineer” deception, misdirection and out-of-order storytelling using Dramatica.

1 Like

This too:

Reveals and misdirects are storytelling devices that likely have trends with certain element of structure.

For reveals think The Sixth Sense. The storyform has Malcom’s Problem Of Perception from the very beginning. Memory is the Concern all the way throughout but we don’t see that until the very end. (The Actuality)

For misdirect think The Usual Suspects. Misunderstandings are part of the narrative structure (OS Goal), so it’s really not a Storyweaving thing.


Thanks Jim. That makes a lot of sense.

So the example I gave above was obviously from “Frozen” with Hans deceiving Anna.

I know that’s an incomplete story, but pretending it wasn’t… theoretically you’re saying that Reveal would NOT be part of the narrative structure? Or is that technically a Misdirect?

Dramatica-lly speaking, What’s the difference between a Misdirect and Reveal?
Like… in Usual Suspects, it’s Revealed who Kaiser Soze actually is to the audience at the end, right?
What determines that as misdirect and not reveal?


You might have seen it, but Armando has a chapter on this in Dramatica for Screenwriters. (Chapter 22)

In the hypothetical examples he gives, you can create suspense by hiding static story points of a throughline, mystery by hiding the plot progression of a throughline (until the end), and dramatic irony by changing the order of the story’s drivers (this last one still doesn’t totally make sense to me).

I bet there are other ways.

This is a really interesting topic BTW. From a writing perspective, consciously being able to separate the chronology of structure from the order of reveals seems really useful and is the kind of thing that’s missing from most other theories of structure.


In that particular example, the Reveal is putting a pin in Hans as the Antagonist. It’s there from the very beginning, but only made known to the Audience for sure in that scene. I’m sure there are moments where he exhibits Avoid and Reconsider prior–but can’t recall. Once Upon a Deadpool pretty much obliterated any appreciation I had for that film :laughing:

The same difference between an orange and a banana?

That’s the thing with Storytelling – it’s all experiential – it’s all subjective. Dramatica is wholly objective, it’s speaking of the process, not the experience.

That’s why the Soze example is both a Misdirect and a Reveal, as well as a Misdirect or a Reveal. It’s all blended together into a giant pot of storytelling, and any attempt to piece out the ingredients after will be a mess.


Thank you! I don’t have that but will pick it up. Sounds like what I’m trying to understand.

1 Like

So this sounds a bit like what @Lakis mentioned above, right? Almost like hiding static plot points, you’re hiding one of the archetypal Players? Super cool stuff!