Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Memory and Investigation

Part of today's focus is on using memory as part of the process of discovery.  In fiction, our characters will often need to learn and present "new" information to the reader, but there are many different ways one can bring these memories to light.

In "The Other Shoe" and "If There Were No Benny Cemoli," we see that investigation into the "truth" of a matter can change the way characters react to it.  Is it possible that Willie Johnson would have dropped his rope if the tree on the hill was still standing?  Or would the men of CURB ever trust John LeConte if there were no Benny Cemoli?

"The Women Men Don't See" takes an interesting twist on this.  So much of the investigation of reality it taken on by Ruth Parsons that we never really learn how she came to understand (and later manipulate) the aliens.  What was her first clue as to their alien nature?  What events in her past have made her so eager to leave Earth?  We don't know.  All we have to go on is Don Fenton's observations, and he never really gets to know her.  But through his observations of her physical actions, we get a general sense that she's far more prepared than he is.

Memories and Dialogue - Purposeful Flaws
Naturally, people talk.  They talk a lot.  And in these conversations, memories are revealed.  But we're never very forthcoming - regardless of who we are or where we've been, we have agendas in life.  We have secrets we'd rather not share, and we choose which opinions to say when.  So in using dialogue to reveal the memories of characters, remember that individual characters won't necessarily be honest.  They'll usually say only what needs to be said, and they'll tend to lie, exaggerate, or undercut their own stories in order to convey the "right" impression.

With dialogue, remember that it's a two-way street.  Willie's epiphany in "The Other Shoe" would have been impossible with Hattie's determination to help him overcome his hatred.  And when she asks her questions, the spaceman isn't eager to answer, jumping out with maps and photos in some last-ditch effort to spare himself from a lynching.  Instead he's methodical.  He has his own pace to match his own exhaustion.  It doesn't match Hattie's pace, but it provides the information.

Memories and Exposition
Exposition is one of the greatest advantages that fiction holds over movies.  As authors, we have a place to explain the story and its characters.  With this comes great responsibility, however.  The narrator should only provide details which are relevant to the story.  When using a first-person or third-person limited narrator, remember that the character will only have his own memories.  With the first-person narrator, rules of dialogue apply - the character may well choose to lie to the reader.  With third-person, you can allow a more objective view of the character to triumph on the page.

Memories and Journals
Yes, journals are popular.  Sometimes they are quoted in stories.  Just be careful in doing this.  Remember that - unlike a real journal - the journals in fiction must still captivate the reader.  They must still have the specific details which hold the reader's attention.

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