Using Character Memories

One of my earliest memories is sitting in the small sandpit in our back garden in London watching my two brothers dig to Australia. That’s right; they thought they could dig to Australia. I remember the moment they hit a rock and thought it was the top of a building. Thinking back on it now, the hole they had dug was probably as big as they were...at age four.

 

This memory hasn’t yet made it into my novels but it probably will, one day. Most authors use their memories to influence their writing - sometimes without even realising it.

I find memories and their influence very interesting; the way they form us as people and the way they influence our actions.

 

To write a realistic character for your novel, they’re going to need such memories that influence them and drive the plot.

The memories of a character make them who they are, today. They develop a character’s personality, causing them to act in a certain way due to previous experiences.

Memories develop the world around the character and influence their actions; they develop personality and have a huge impact on decisions.

Your character could refuse to leave their friend alone as they remember how it feels to have been left alone. This makes them stubborn and moral. It shows their relationship with the friend while, also, giving an insight into the character’s mind.

 

Memories are very important for the development of every aspect of your novel; the difficult part is coming up with useful, believable memories.

There are two things to consider when developing memories.

1) The reaction you want.

Do you want your character to feel anger, nostalgia, heartbreak?Without being cliche, what past events could cause these emotions? In my opinion, the more obscure and unusual the memory, the better. But you don’t want it to so unusual it is blown out of proportion; you just want a very specific moment in time.

For example, her ex boyfriend’s sleepy eyes; the time they walked on the beach at 3am; when they burnt dinner and ate it anyway; when his brother left the house for good; when his father was in hospital and couldn’t remember his own son’s name. Think about the background you have made for your character and create a memory that fits in.

2) The trigger.
Memories can be triggered by things as detailed as smell, sound, and touch. This trigger will be a part of your plot.

For example, he gave her a bunch of pink roses and their smell reminded her of the day her mother died.

 

For inspiration, remember your own memories. When something small like smell, sound, or touch triggers one of your own memories, write it down. Write down what triggered you, how it felt to suddenly recall, and what the memory was. This will help you practice for when you find yourself needing to make it up for your novel.

Exercise

Pretend you are a character and write out his/her memories about

  • Family

  • Old friends

  • First love

  • Happiest day of their life

Was there a particular moment or event that was important to the character?

When you find yourself floundering, wondering how you could possibly change your plot to make an event occur, try to come up with a memory for your character that stirs them into action. It could be a memory of distrust (like a warning), of a mistake they once made, of loss, of love, of happy times…

 

Using memories helps to get into the skin and the nitty gritty details of the character, but can also generate new material for your work.