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?
I remember hearing about when the Twin Towers fell. I was teaching third grade when someone came to my classroom and asked me to step outside and told me. Then at break time when the kids were in the gym, we met in one room where the TV was on and watched it.
I remember my wedding day, and other days, but the one that I'll never forget is the day my eighteen year old son died of cancer in my arms, and the day my brother died while my sister-in-law and nieces were with him singing and talking to him all that day. Sometimes sad memories stay the longest.
I remember hearing when John F. Kennedy was shot. I got very angry with the person who told me, thinking it was rumor not fact.
I am terrible – until you show me a picture. Then all the details before, during and after come back in a flood of recollection. I have not had occasion to play with character memories as all my stories have been of the moment rather than relying on the past.
Maybe I need to change that.
Can't remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but the days my girls were born (20 years ago) are days I can remember to the tiniest detail.
Haven't played with memory yet - I think that's book three ;)
Memory does play tricks on us. Sometimes I think we create memories of things we wish had happened, and they become real to us. I don't think any two people remember things the same way.
Have you ever been an eyewitness to an event that was then reported in the newspaper? Likely as not, the article will bear little resemblance to what you saw.
I can remember when the Twin Towers fell. We could only hope that my NYFD cousins were not on duty that day (they weren't. They were called in, but the towers were down by then) and that a relative had not gotten to work on time that day (she had. She was talking to her grandmother on the phone as the building collapsed.)
Throughout my life, I've recognized when something special happens. At those times, I think, I have to remember this time or event. And then--I never remember what happened. I remember thinking that I had to remember whatever, but not the actual event. So when it comes to my memory--forget it! I don't have a good memory at all, and I never did so I can't blame old age.
Memory does play a part in my novel--traumatic events. I've studies the effects of Post Traumatic Stress on memory and tried to incorporate them into my book. I hope I've been successful.
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