Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Your Character's Memories

One challenge I have faced in Beside Two Rivers, the second book in the Daughters of the Potomac Series, is dealing with the bits and pieces of Darcy's childhood memories she has tucked away in her mind. They deal with her parents and the days she lived at River Run, their estate along the Potomac River. Darcy's memories are crucial to the story, and to avoid dumping backstory into the narrative, I had to weave her memories into the tapestry of the incidents she experiences.

Childhood memories, or memories in general, can have a potent affect on the reader and add depth and motivation to your character. But they most be brief, intense, not long and drawn out. A few keys to writing memories into your novel are as follows.

Remember to use sensory influences - sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Do not tell all. Allow the reader to wonder what your character's memories mean. Allow your character to wonder the same.

To avoid 'telling' allow your character to react to the memory. Perhaps they grip their hands together, or their eyes fill up with tears. Some kind of reaction to the memory adds depth.

Use one particular memory to be center stage but only an image. One example in Beside Two Rivers is Darcy remembers the swing made for her, tied to a massive tree, and remembers it in winter, its ropes encrusted with ice. This was her place of refuge and on a day when she rides out to see the old house, the swing is long gone.  

Her refuge is no longer there, but she remembers and it causes a craving in her heart to feel that sense of protection again and finds a new place of refuge, a secluded cliff high above the river. Just as she was able to swing high and see her world in a different perspective, the cliff enables her to stand high above the gorge and see a wider world about her.

When revealing a memory, make it poignant, make it reflect on a serious event.

Create in your characters actions that imply their pasts and how it shaped their future, instead of writing out long accounts with a lot of detail.

If you are writing a series, be sure that the memories your characters reveal in the subsequent books are in line with the prequel.

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Share with us your thoughts on the use of memory in your writing. Are you writing a novel where the events in your main character's life are influenced by the past?

Do you have a particular childhood memory that is only an image that brings you joy when it is recalled?

Mine? The huge sycamore tree on the hill past the next yard, that I saw from my swing in our backyard. The tree is still there. And when I would visit my parents, and see that tree, I felt happy thinking back to those summer days, pumping my legs on the swing to go higher and higher in my shorts and red keds.
I'm in the photo to the right, at age 15.

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