Our memories make us what we are.
But memory is a tricky thing. It doesn't behave the way you want it to. I was doing some research for a post in a few weeks time and re-read a book that I haven't looked at in years -- only to discover that the detail of the story I was checking wasn't as I remembered it. That started me thinking about the way memory operates, something that’s always fascinated me.
It's quite common, I understand, for witnesses to an event to produce wildly different accounts of what happened. And why is it that the bad memories seem to stick more than the good? You remember every detail of that hospital waiting room, but the romantic holiday blurs into a fuzzy string of sunny days. And that's the stuff that you do remember. I have boxes full of theatre programmes that contain a fair sprinkling for productions that I don't have any recollection of attending. And don't get me started on the things that I remember that didn't actually happen!
We can't always make memories. We put a lot of effort, money and hope into creating the perfect wedding, graduation, birthday party, but often it's the unscripted events that stay in your mind. That single moment when you know that this one will stay with you for the rest of your life.
I'd been playing around with the idea for this post for a while before I realised that it was directly connected to another idea that I'd had for a book -- it's only the merest glimmer at present, but the story is going to hinge on six particular memories that have shaped the hero's life. At present, I have only vague thoughts about three of them, but until I get all six together the story is never going to see the light of day. I didn't expect that making someone else's memories could be as hard as hanging on to your own.
Research is valuable for a writer. There are many stories of authors who have given realistic accounts of places they have never visited, and historical writers must always be working a little in the dark, as we can never quite know whether we have the historical 'feel' right. As a writer and a reader though, I find the things I remember, and put into my writing, the most rewarding. To create an atmosphere from somewhere I have visited, with just a quick reference, or to read in a book about a place or an event I remember adds to the experience. Writers of fantasy have a hard time with that one - the trick there is to create the world so everyone feels as if they have been there.
Hanging on to your memories for future reference? That's where the note book that every writer is supposed to carry, to jot down thoughts and impressions, comes into it's own. Provided you remember to take it with you, of course!