Making the Most of Memory

Sometimes I get little twinges of memories–incidental things that have happened to me a long time ago, things that were buried underneath all the new memories I’ve been  making. These memories are usually unrecorded things that make me so, “Oh, yeah; that’s right! That DID happen!” When my Muse is on  speaking terms with me, these little remembrances are just the grain of truth I need to sweeten the fiction pot, so to speak.

The other day, I was sitting at my desk, letting my mind wander when I remembered a little girl from my childhood that was murdered. This wasn’t just some girl I went to school with or saw on the bus; I knew her. She was invited to my birthday party. Little details about her and about the case came floating back: the last name of the couple responsible, what they had done to her, the date she died. I don’t know what idea it will turn into, but the memories mprinted themselves so fully on my brain, I knew I had to write them down.

It’s not always a full blown topic or idea, though. Yesterday, as my mind was out wandering at work (again), I was thinking about abuse in one of my stories. It’s tricky to write about something you have experienced, trickier still to write about something you read or heard about it. The very last thing I wanted to do was use someone else’s abuse real life abuse story. That was depressing, so I thought about summers when I was a kid. I was always with my cousins or someone else when I was really little, so nothing ever happened to me. Then I remembered coming back from a beach trip. I won’t tell you what little thing I remembered because it’s important to one of the addiction short stories I’m writing, but that detail, so minute, expanded into a whole scene. It was like when a movie comes on focused on something small like the numbers on an alarm clock, then slowly expands to reveal the whole scene: a hand shuts off the alarm; a head peeks out of rumpled covers; a man sits up; a woman sits up, scratching her head and yawning; they look at each other and scream bloody murder, each trying to cover themselves and get away at the same time.

Of course, I twisted and changed the memory to make it fiction: the girl is older, the cousins are friends, the room is different, and the addiction/abuse angle is completely fiction, but weaving in other memories, I think it could feel real.

I don’t know how many of you have encountered this, but there is a cloud on the horizon. I love the addiction stories so far, even though they’re tough work. It’s a challenge to myself to write them, and when I get one right, I feel like I’ve done my best work. However, I know if I ever do get to the point of sharing them, people will think I’m speaking from experience (if I do it right, anyway). How does one deal with that? I mean, to a certain extent it will be me; I’m using my memories and remembered feelings to construct it. But most of it will be the result of talent and hard work. I’m not too concerned about it. If I can make it so real I can convince people I have experienced it firsthand, I will take that as a compliment.

How do you make the most of your memory in writing? Do you ever use real life elements in your stories? How much of you fiction is you, is “real”?

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One thought on “Making the Most of Memory

  1. Nice post. Much of my fiction is real. I write about real things and fictionalize details to steer the plot. Since truth is stranger than fiction, I usually start with truth or a true event and add to it. I find it hard to believe that any fictional story about relationships, love, conflict, etc. isn’t based on some truth.

    Any story or movie that says, “Based on a true story,” is starting with some aspect of truth then adding fiction where needed for drama, etc. Using our own memories is a great way to generate story ideas.

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