In writing, especially a novel, it isn’t likely that everything you want to say is linear in time. It MIGHT be…but there is a good chance that you want to tell something that happened in a characters past–or flash forward to what might be in their future.
Getting this back (or forward) story into the book without bogging it down can be very difficult. It’s a fine balance to walk.
Lately, I have been binge-watching Orange is the New Black, as I’ve mentioned before. One of the things that makes this show so fascinating is the weaving in of the back story. You eventually see what brought most of the regulars to be where they are now. And it is done subtly and smoothly without slowing down the action. I’ve also just finished watching Babylon 5, and it features several scenes going the OTHER way, with flash forwards and premonitions. Again, they are handled subtly and without disrupting the flow.
Now, of course, these are both examples of media productions rather than static words on the page, but I think that by studying good examples like this we can learn to incorporate the time slips into writing.
I am not advocating a lot of flashbacks–they can really irritate some readers–but getting the information out of the past and into the present can be done many ways:
My husband’s favorite way is through dialog. Have the character whose past you want to explore relating the story to an interested party.
Have the character looking through a scrapbook or diary and remembering the incidents documented within.
Have two OTHER characters discussing the past.
Or, if absolutely necessary–in extreme moderation–have an actual flashback.
Going forward, there are also multiple options:
Have the character dream about something that later comes true.
Have a fortune-teller relate a vision of the future.
Have an ancient prophecy foreshadow the character’s path.
The important thing is not to disrupt the forward flow of the story with a break for time travel–past or future. The time jumps need to be seamlessly woven into the action so that no one realizes they’ve been elsewhere until they look back on your genius. 😉