If you listened to the Serial podcast this fall, you might remember that host Sarah Koenig started the very first episode by discussing how difficult it is for us to remember individual days of the run-of-the-mill variety. In great detail, she discusses how we tend to remember details clearly only if the day was of great importance of one way or another.
For example: Many of us can give our hour-by-hour movements on a day like Sept. 11, 2001. I can tell you I worked out, took a shower, got out of the shower to the image of the towers on fire, saw the towers fall, went to Spanish class in complete shock, spent the rest of the day at my college newspaper and then the evening eating cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream on the couch with my roommates and boyfriend.
The point Koenig was trying to make was that on days when nothing important seems to happen, it’s incredibly difficult to remember what happened in particular. And then when the cops come knocking six weeks later and claim you killed your girlfriend? Well…yeah, then you become Adnan Syed. A guy who may or may not have done something wrong but couldn’t remember much in particular about the day his girlfriend went missing. And then you might end up talking about it on a viral podcast.
Often memory plays a huge role in mystery writing. What someone does or does not remember can be huge to the plot and can have equally huge implications to the character—whether the person is intentionally “forgetting” (i.e. lying) or if that person is like Adnan and just can’t recall anything because that day wasn’t special until it was.
I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon a lot this week because April 1 (yes, April Fool’s Day) was the fifteen-year anniversary of my first date with my husband. I’m not sure if most couples would normally remember the exact date of their first date, but simply because ours happens to fall on the world’s worse holiday (I hate pranks), I always remember it—my husband does too (without me nagging him).
And we remember what we did, too: walked downtown and ate Thai food. Now, the restaurant isn’t there anymore and we even disagree as to what it was called, but we remember that we ate there.
Do you have very specific days that stick out in your mind? If you’ve toyed with memory with your characters, how have you done so?