Memory in FictionPosted: January 30, 2014
Memory is an important part of life. It shapes who were are, where we came from, and even where we are headed in life. Losing one’s memory is probably one of the most horrifying things that can happen to a person as it strips them of all sense of identity. Actually it’s probably more horrifying for their loved ones than the actual person in question.
My upcoming YA release FORGET ME NOT centers around memory loss. The theme of memory is one that runs through the whole four-book series; it’s even featured in all of the titles. For me as a writer, memory was a tricky thing to deal with, but I made use of a few writing techniques.
A flashback is a memory. You know when you’re sitting in class / at work chewing on you pen and staring not at what’s in front of you but at the image in your mind of that cute guy you had a date with last night, while you play over all the details. That’s a flashback.
Flashbacks are a useful tool for writers, whether there are memory loss issues in the story or not. It’s something that can be used to show an event that happened in the past. (Read: backstory.) I think it’s important to be careful though, because flashbacks can turn into info dumps if not written well and, hence, slow the story down. My general rule is keep it short. A 200 word excerpt is enough; otherwise the reader will get bored and the flashback loses its impact. Some flashbacks are written like the character is watching them happen, and other are written as if the character is remembering them.
Here’s an example of a flashback.
The sight of it brings back so many memories. The only time I ever saw my parents fight… Mom shouted so loud I covered my ears, and Dad responded in a low emotionless voice. Young and scared, I hid in the curtains while she screamed. Her last words were punctuated by her yanking the pendant off and tossing it across the room. Dad scooped it up, crossed the room in long strides and pulled her to him. His fingers traced the edge of her face before he kissed her. He lowered the pendant over her head, and the angry lines on her face melted into a smile. It’s not exactly a good memory, but it was her.
(©2014, Stacey Nash, Forget Me Not)
I think we all know what dreams are, so I’m just going to jump right in. I used dream sequences on several occasions throughout the books, with the character either having a flashback through a dream or having a dream that had an obvious meaning of something that did happen in the past. They’re a little trickier to use than flashbacks, but boy they read well when they’re done right. I think the big thing to remember is the dream needs to fit the character and the story. If you plop a dream in that is too abstract you’ll wind up confusing readers. It needs to be simple, short, and reflect what’s already happened in the story. Basically, the dream needs to feel like a dream.
Here’s an example of a dream combined with a flashback, so that the dream was like a memory but it wasn’t quite right. That’s because there’s some foreshadowing there too. 😉
A soft rap sounds on my door, but I ignore it. I need to finish Mom’s letter. My gaze burns into the last sheet of paper, but for the life of me I can’t remember what’s happened this past year to tell her.
The rap sounds again, only this time it’s louder, more insistent.
“Not now, Dad.”
He doesn’t stop, just knocks and knocks and knocks.
My concentration pounds, then shatters. Argh. I can’t do this.
I can’t even think.
My pen, poised over the paper, refuses to move. I push against it, trying to guide the nib into an M, but it’s like the nib is glued to the page.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Heart pounding, ears ringing, the dampness of sweat cakes my whole body.
My eyes spring open. It’s dark.
My heart beats in time with the knocks, a rapid, thudding beat.
Knock, knock, knock.
(©2014, Stacey Nash, Forget Me Not)
Other ways of dealing with memory
There are lots of other ways to deal with memory in fiction. Déjàvu is probably the method I used the most. It’s also the most subtle. Then there’s inner dialogue; almost like flashbacks but shorter, just a sentence here, a thought there. Reminiscing through dialogue is another method; multiple characters having a conversation about the past.
No matter which writing technique is used for dealing with memory, I think the trick is not to overuse any one. For me, that was really tricky when there were multiple characters…ah, no. I won’t spoil it – read the book and you’ll see. 😉
About Forget Me Not
Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother’s favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. When the brooch and the pendant are worn together they’re no longer pretty pieces of jewelry — they’re part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewelry’s power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device — and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she’s Enemy Number One.
She’s forced to leave her father behind when she’s taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.
Releasing February 17th from Entranced Publishing. Add it to your Goodreads TBR now!
Stacey Nash writes adventure filled stories for Young Adults in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. When her head isn’t stuck in a fictional world, she calls the Hunter Valley of New South Wales home. It is an area nestled between mountains and vineyards, full of history and culture that all comes together to create an abundance of writing inspiration. Stacey loves nothing more than spending her days writing when inspiration strikes.