Reasons We Remember:

  • 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.

memory lane

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.”




3 thoughts on “Reasons We Remember:

  1. Wow, Aivee. This post is great.

    Memory is actually something I’ve thought about a lot recently (and, in fact, have a series of blog posts planned around it), and this post has added more fuel to the thoughts swirling around in my head. I liked that you discussed reasons we remember but then applied it to writing. As I read, I thought even beyond what you discussed. Like you said, I believe it’s important to consider how our scenes fit into the overall scheme of our novels. I also think it’s important to consider our characters’ memories. What memories shaped them? What do they regret? What makes them smile to remember? Understanding those things can be key to our characters, and it should be considered. Nice post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Rachelle! I am glad that I could contribute to your ponderings. Unless I’m misunderstanding and you’ve already published them (in which case, please let me know where I can find them) I can’t wait to read your posts about memories and memory.

      I agree with you that memories that occur before the book begins are important too – and sometimes even more important. That’s definitely something that I was thinking about as I wrote this post, but I was afraid I would ramble on for too long if I included everything 🙂

      I feel that sometimes writers see posts about the bad things that could befall them if they overload their readers with background information and they can become afraid to include the pasts of their characters. Memories are powerful motivators and profoundly shape our personalities. I don’t like to define everything about my characters and their pasts when I first start writing them into a novel because I like to give them room to grow independently of where I thought they would go when I first started writing, but a question that was once asked of me and that I now love to ask all my characters to better understand them is: What is your best memory? What is your worst memory? The answers are always incredibly personal and intriguing and say a lot about the character.


      • Nope, you didn’t misunderstand! They’ll be up at some point. 😀

        *laughs* I could sense a bit of it; I completely understand on not wanting to include too much!

        I completely agree! We see so many posts on not info-dumping and only including pertinent information that we forget how important some of that backstory is. Sure, not everything should be included in the novel. Story is so much more than just the plot, though. The story includes the depth of characters and storyworld in a way that impacts the plot. Thus, memories are an important piece of that. And I think it’s important to remember that not every single thing we learn about our characters has to go into the book; sometimes it’s enough that we know it. Sometimes, that’s all that is necessary to create depth. Hmm, I like that idea! I’ve never done that specifically with my characters, but I’d like to try it now!


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