3 min read

WEW: Flash Forward

I bought Jaquira Díaz's memoir, Ordinary Girls, when it came out in 2019. But I set it down a few essays in and I'm just now picking it back up. I have no idea how or why I neglected to finish this book!!! Among the things Jaquira does well is create a strong sense of place by bringing us into the Miami of her youth and establishing what it feels like to be an outsider.

A tool that Jaquira uses frequently in her memoir is the flash forward. I think not enough people put the flash forward to use when it can be just as effective in your writing as a flash back. In this interview by Yohanca Delgado on Lithub, Jaquira says,

I like to time travel in my work. To tether something to the present, or to the narrator’s present, and remind the reader that the narrator is an adult now, knows the past, present, and future, and has lived past that moment. This moment will affect the future. What our mothers do affect us in the future, as girls. I wanted to evoke the way that memory feels. How memory works, some things come of nowhere and some things are connected. I wanted to be able to do that, to have a narrator who sees the current moment and also sees the future. That’s something I’m really interested in, in speculative nonfiction.
What Does It Mean to Be an Ordinary Girl? - Electric Literature
Jaquira Díaz on the joy, pain, and necessity of writing memoir

I'm deeply invested in personal writing that gives you the sense that there was life that preceded the moment you're reading about and it continues long after you shut the book. By using flash forwards in your writing you're moving along the full spectrum of your narrative.

A flash forward can give a reader a better understanding of what you don't know yet (and, consequently, why you made the choice you made in the narrative's present moment). Especially helpful if you're getting the feedback that people want to know how you felt but you didn't really feel anything at the time. These examples are from "Monstruo" in Ordinary Girls.

He wasn't laughing like the rest of us. I wouldn't realize it until much later, after the Krypto and the Olde English had worn off. After that miserable fall with my mother, after going back to my father's house, after Kilo had cheated with a girl from the barrio and gotten her pregnant and named the baby Mikey, like he hoped this Mikey would be the one to save him. After hating her for stealing him from me, after stealing him back years later, even if only for a little while, after the two of us, trying to be those same two kids we'd been, got drunk on the beach on a Saturday night...
...and thought about the two of us lying in the grass that Halloween when we were only thirteen and fourteen, how we were just kids but seemed so much older, already so tired, so damn tired it was like we'd been fighting a war. That's when it would it me that maybe Kilo wasn't all that different from me...
But that Halloween, the two of us on the grass, all I knew was that I felt nothing and everything all at once.

It can also show how time keeps moving forward and the inevitability of change.

By January, we would barely see each other. By Valentine's Day, Kilo would already be with the girl who'd become the mother of his baby.

Flash forwards are way to shorten the narrative. So, you can show the long-term importance of a relationship or a series of events without having to add 900 extra pages to your essay or feel like you have to overly compress your timeline to get it all in. Just flick your hand of cards forward for a moment and give the reader a peek.

This week for WEW, I'd like you to write about a pivotal moment from your youth and try your hand at a flash forward. Now, remember, a flash forward is structured the same way as a flash back, your narrative is still anchored in its present moment, you just spring forward and right back to the same moment like a rubber band that's been stretched and let go. The flash forward is structured this way because it should grant the reader better understanding of that moment, what happens and the choices that were made.

And as always, ALL subscribers:

  • Are invited to send what you write based on the exercise (500 words max) and I'll share an excerpt from everyone's work the following Tuesday (you an also share with just me if you'd like!).
  • Email your work to me with the subject line WEW - [YOUR NAME].

Can't wait to read what y'all write <3

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