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  • Oona Roberts

Turning Back Time


One of the (many!) writing techniques that has inspired me as an author is using flashbacks to add depth to pieces. It brings so much dimension to both the characters and plot, and though they can get tiring if overused, this technique, when used correctly and in moderation, can really deepen stories and their meanings.

The technique is commonly used in children’s books, the most notable of which is Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. During the last book, the author is traveling back in time to explore several different characters’ backstories. The technique helped pull the story together, and by the end of its usage, readers are left with a much more complete view of the characters and many holes in the plot are fixed.

Although flashbacks are less commonly used in ‘adult’ literature, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, employs the technique throughout the book. Fitzgerald uses this technique in order to give the reader background about both real historical figures he discusses in the story and his own characters. The main character, Jay Gatsby, frequently has flashbacks about him and the woman he loves, Daisy, in a desperate attempt to keep their past romance alive. The flashbacks are expertly placed, and they provide insight into the intent of the book.

I don’t use flashbacks in every piece that I write, though digging into a character’s backstory—how they might have handled certain situations in the past or even imagining them as younger, different people in order to figure out how they’ve changed/what makes them who they are now— is something that has helped my writing grow with every piece that I write. And when I do decide to include flashbacks in my work, I find that it really helps deepen the plot and the ‘fullness’ of the characters. Backstory, whether actually written on the page or not, is vital to creating a meaningful and literary piece.

When I was a younger reader and writer, this idea of literally being able to change/turn back time really resonated with me. I loved that I had the freedom to create an entire personal history for different characters and actually be able to employ it in my pieces—that’s a lot of power, especially for a pre-teen.

In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s best friend, Nick Carraway, urges him to stop daydreaming, telling him that you can’t repeat the past, but as Gatsby delves even deeper into flashbacks of him and Daisy, he can only reply with, “Why, of course you can!” I think that this accurately portrays the importance of flashbacks in stories— they give both the author and the reader a chance to dive into aspects of pieces that would normally not be explored, and they give the piece a more meaningful background and plot.

-Oona Roberts, Layout and Design


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