- We remember facts that are necessary for later success, whether short term or long term.
- Ex. for school classes, work related material, driving laws, etc.
- We remember events tied to extreme emotion. This emotion can occur during the moment or be tied to a moment after it has occurred (I really loved how Inside Out clearly demonstrated this). Our perception of memories frequently change.
- We remember the first time we experience something. We remember because the experience is new and so we notice many things and are attuned to many details that others might pass over. We’re also more likely to be emotional – anxious, elated, scared, etc. Whatever we are feeling, we are likely feeling it intensely. This leads us back to our second point.
- I’m tempted to also say that we remember the last time we experience something, but that’s impossible to know in the moment and presents issues that I could spend an entire separate post on.
- We remember things when we have done them over and over. You could argue that when you’ve done something repeatedly you no longer pay attention, but I would argue that you’re also very accustomed to it and obviously remember it without much effort. Additionally, consider if there is a specific time that you did something that your memory of the thing is from.
- We remember societal milestones. Things that our society deems important are likely to have other factors from this list attached.
- We remember anything with a Before & After attached to it. This will never occur without extreme emotion also causing the event to be more memorable.
I made the above list entitled “Reasons We Remember” this past March. I was spending a lot of time collecting my thoughts about memories and why they are so important to me. Not just my memories, but the act of remembering and the importance it plays in our personalities and our culture.
In the margins of this list I wrote:
“Memories are such strange things (like people) which is probably why they so interest me. It’s funny because I can’t understand, looking at this list, why I would remember in such detail going to a fair in 5th grade with a friend and walking across a field and her worrying that she’d lost her sunglasses.”
Perhaps I’ll never understand why this memory has stuck with me, but it’s important in our novels that each moment is memorable. Each scene needs to be important for our characters and important to the plot. I always cut down significantly in my second and third drafts of novels because there are lots of scenes that I wish I could keep from the rough draft but that aren’t integral to the rest of the events.
We need to carefully consider the significance of each scene. If these moments are important to the plot, then they will likely be important later down the line. This makes every scene in our book something that our characters will remember in later scenes. We need to determine what makes each scene memorable, and how our characters will remember them. Also consider if the reader will – or should – remember the scene in a different light than the characters, and how different characters should remember the same scene in different ways and for different reasons.
There is a great difference between remembering something and knowing something, though the two can seem very similar at times. In storytelling, what we/characters remember will always be more important than what we/they know. Knowledge is facts. Remembering is senses and emotion. Stories and poems can be about facts, but we are less likely to enjoy reading them if remembering is involved.
To end with one last (very Texan) pondering that is also written in the margins of my list:
“‘Remember the Alamo.’ Isn’t that what they say? They don’t want you to know it happened – they want you to remember it.”
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” – Natalee Goldberg
To write – and to share what you write with others – is to be vulnerable.
I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but I hide pieces of myself – my fears and hopes and faults and accomplishments – in my stories. Sometimes I’m so ashamed of them that I unconsciously bury them so deeply inside the story that I get halfway through before I notice. But this has also helped me through a lot of personal struggles. I can separate the parts that I like from the ones that I don’t and, on page, give myself second chances and transformations and triumphs.
Write about the memories you don’t want to face. Separate yourself from them if you need to. Change some details and actions if you need to. Give yourself the room to breathe and heal your wounds. Give your struggles to your characters and let them work through them.
For me, this advice means writing about the things that are hardest for me to write about. But I think the advice, though hard to execute, is really rewarding when you manage to follow through. It has given my writing more depth and made my characters easier to relate to and more realistic. It has allowed me to better understand myself.
There are times when writing is easy – when the words flow and the characters lead you and the scenes are vivid in your mind. These are the moments in which we fall in love with our words and our stories and our inability to accept limits. Sometimes, however, the times that writing is the hardest are the times that best allow us to grow (as a person and a writer). Don’t be afraid to write messy. You don’t have to show anyone these scenes and stories and characters. You just have to keep writing.
mindfulness. (n) a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them.
The part of this that stuck with me is that the person explaining the practice of mindfulness said, “Don’t focus on the past or the future – just the present.” And somehow this explanation made me consider all the worries I have about the things that have happened to me in the past and the things I’m worried that could happen to me, and as I tried to focus solely on the present – of myself sitting in a room and taking each breath in and out – I failed….. Instead, I started thinking about the characters in the book I’m currently editing.
What is motivating our characters? This is a basic character development question and an important one, but the question suddenly became more complex and three dimensional as I considered it with all of eternity set before me. Don’t just know what is currently motivating your characters – consider the past, present, and future.
What have been past goals or motivations that your characters had or experienced? How did their success/failure shape their current mindset? Are they yet to experience failure and brimming with brazen, impossible plans? Are they cautious and realistic?
But it’s more than this – what happened in their past that is motivating their current actions? This can be as simple as the backstory that has created their personality/mannerisms/etc, but it can also clarify why they currently have the goals they do. How are past and current goals changing and juxtaposed against each other? How does your character deal with the times that they conflict – which goal do they choose (or which one becomes more important) and why? Also, consider whether the goals they currently have are motivated by their current situation, or by their worries about possible future ones. We cannot just imagine our characters as experiencing one seen at a time, but as an active part of the larger flow of events and relationships that take place before, during, and after the story stops being told on paper.
These are all things that real people are constantly, subconsciously, dealing with. I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is these things that we think about but don’t always notice that make us complex and interesting and human and real – and that we should endeavor to give our characters these multifaceted qualities.
Hey y’all. It’s been a while.
I recognize that it seems like I’ve given up on this blog, but starting today I would like to endeavor to prove that I haven’t. I was worried about having something profound to say in every single post I made, but this seems too close to comparing first drafts to final drafts. The goal of this blog is to get something out every other day, to get to know you all better, and to not always feel so alone in my writing process.
Onto other matters …. I’ve recently realized that people tend to focus on the subject of descriptions but often a description reveals nearly as much (or more) about the narrator.
Who is our narrator? What do they notice – what about that do they truly care about? Are their descriptions physical, or do they focus more on the feeling something gives them, on the way someone carries themself and what that might reveal about them? For instance, I tend to, if I’m writing in third person, describe personality over physical traits and I often have readers telling me they can’t quite picture a character because I haven’t physically described them enough. I realize physical traits are important in a sighted world, but to me, who my characters are matter more. I think this should come out when we’re writing in first person as other characters as well. How does our narrator interpret physical cues of emotions? How do they respond to what they see? What experiences have lead our narrator to this exact moment with this exact description? At the start of the book, would they have given the same description?
It’s really easy (in theory) to practice this by describing a character/scene by several different characters. I’ve been doing this recently with a novel I’m editing to strengthen my understanding of my characters who perhaps aren’t in every scene but who I refuse to ignore and demote to being a secondary character. It is my firm belief that every character is important. You can also practice this by having one character describe a character/scene at different times throughout the book. How does their description and mindset concerning the character/scene change as they progress through the book? If nothing changes, something is wrong. Dynamic relationships and personal growth are vital to strong, realistic characters. No two characters should describe the same person/scene the same way.