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Behind the Scenes of a Novel- Day 12

Updated on September 13, 2012


symbol of bygone times
symbol of bygone times

What Your Characters Remember

Are memories a part of your novel? They are if you intend to give your characters a past. They are if those memories are part of the current situation. When I wrote Secrets the memories Buck Wise had of the librarian were what drove him to solve her murder. In Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie the first Macy McVannel, memories of what had happened sixteen years earlier are how they solve the case. In my current novel, as yet unnamed, memories are what tie Dani and Brad together. They are what the two of them are using to forge a new relationship.

Characters see situations from their own perspective. In Target of Vengeance my main character, Maggie Parsons, is dealing with a new job in her hometown and the deaths of her husband and children in a car accident. She runs into former classmates and old friends. Memories are confronted which help her with her grief. However some memories long forgotten are what drives her nemesis.

It's okay to let your characters have memories especially if it moves your story forward. Memories and thoughts can be shown in italics. It sets them aside as being relevant. It also lets your reader know what is in the past and what is happening now. As well as what is thought vs what is spoken.

Memories can give you insights into other characters. What Dani remembers about Brad gives him more dimension. The same as Brad's memories give Dani dimension. You see the two characters from someone else's point of view. It helps narrative sections move, showing you rather than telling you about someone.

In first person, which is what I chose for the first two Macy books, you can only see things from Macy's point of view. Nothing happens without Macy being there. Things which do happen off camera or out of scene are later related to Macy so you the reader still knows what's going on. It's difficult writing this way. Not impossible and many are very successful at it.

Writing in third person gives you a chance to get into all the characters heads and see what they are thinking. It adds dimensions you can't have in first person. It's easier to write and gives the writer more possibilities.

Flashback to scenes in the past is one way to deal with memory. Going into a character's thoughts is another way to deal with memory. Sharing the memory with another character is still a third way. Memories are fun to play with. Use them wisely. They can either add or subtract from your story.

Adding a memory just so you have one in a story makes no sense. Memory in a story has to move the story along or set the scene for something about to happen. Never just for the sake of saying you have included a memory or flashback. You will be seen as unbelievable.

You want your readers following along. They have to be able to make meaning from any memory or flashback you include. The last thing you want to hear is a reader saying, "I just read a great book, but the author threw in this memory scene about halfway through and it didn't make sense." This is where good editing comes in.

A good editor will catch these things and help you fix them or delete them. Sometimes the scene you think is the best is the one having to go. It doesn't fit, or move your story along. Cutting it hurts but save it you might be able to use it somewhere else in some other story.

Choose your memories carefully, but have fun using them.


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    • Duchessoflilac1 profile image

      Rebecka Vigus 5 years ago from Johns Island, SC

      Thank you. The first time I confronted flashbacks, I said I quit, I can't do that. When I wrote Secrets, I just did it. It worked wonderfully. It's a matter of knowing when to use them and when not to.

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 5 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      Great information - thank you for sharing! My current "in-edit" novel is almost 50% flashbacks. I'm hoping it will not be confusing. Thanks again - Voted up!