Have you ever encountered a situation where a memory is not quite what you had remembered it to be? Though our ability to record memories is perfect, our recall is faulty and oftentimes we will remember someone as having worn a white shirt when in actuality, they wore a blue shirt. This happens, you ask? Yes, more than we realize. So, the question begs to be asked, if our memory recall is faulty, shouldn’t our characters’s be as well? The answer is a most resounding yes!
Writing your characters with a perfect recall of an event, person, place or thing not only makes them come across as too perfect, it makes them unrelatable. Writing an Emotional Scene? You Could Have an Unreliable Narrator, by Faye Kirwin, we learn that “it’s time to introduce a touch of unreliability.”
“Humans aren’t recorders. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you don’t remember everything perfectly, even when you’re trying to. Memories fade, details get distorted, some features you never remember in the first place. The scene in your mind and the scene that actually happened can be very different things.”
Writing characters who misremember something important makes them truly come alive off the page as well as adds for interesting twists, conflicts and situations they might not otherwise ever encounter. But, it’s not just about misremembering, it’s how to write it that really counts.
In Faye’s article, False Memories in Fiction: How Emotional Scenes Can Create Unreliable Narrators, Ms. Kirwin goes into more detail about applying this to your writing in such a way as to make your character’s fault work for them, or even against them, depending on how you choose to write it.
“When you sit down to write a scene, think about what emotion your point-of-view character is feeling. If she’s positive and she’s just completed a goal, then include both the central and background features of the scene in your descriptions (as long as they’re relevant, of course). Because emotion affects attention (present) and memory (past), your happy character could be taking in the central and background details in her current scene or remembering both types of details of a past scene.”
“As with feeling positive emotion when pursuing a goal, negative emotion can narrow attention and memory to the core features of a scene. And it makes sense—if something causes you a negative emotion, like fear or anger, it’s likely a threat, and so you zoom in on the thing making you feel that way. The stuff around it is less important and so you’re less likely to remember it.”
“This is particularly fun to apply to writing. Imagine your character’s been caught up in the middle of a bank robbery. Is she going to pay attention to the glossiness of the marble floor or the armed thief a few feet away? Unless the glossy floor factors into a plan she’s devising or provides a sharp contrast (e.g. if there’s blood on it), she’s unlikely to remember it—or she may misremember it.”
When writing those pivotal scenes, perhaps think about having your character misremember some little detail about it and see where it takes him. He might just find out his perception isn’t exactly what he thought it was. Have fun with it and be creative. You now have full license to do just that, because no is perfect, so why should our characters be?
Saturday was the deadline for The Only Story Writing Contest and submissions will no longer be accepted. We are pleased to announce, the interest and response was greater than we’d anticipated. Thank you to everyone for submitting. We are excited to sit down and read through them all. Results will be announced at the October 15th meeting.
We have also released the proposed by-laws for OWLS and ask that members take the time to read through them and email us any questions you may have by October 1st. A full version of the proposed by-laws can be found under the NEWS tab. We will be voting on the by-laws at the October 15th meeting. If you are not a member and are interested in voting on the by-laws, you are invited to join OWLS. Annual dues are $25 a year/$45 for two years and you can join on the website under the Membership tab.
Again, thank you all who participated in The Only Story Writing Contest! We’ll see everyone in October!