We forget a lot more than we ever remember, I think. It’s probably for the best, considering the nonsense we see and hear everyday. I think Paul Simon put it best, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.

In reading, for example, I’m really horrible about remembering. Like in Crime and Punishment, I have no idea how he ever wound up in jail. Frankly there’s a whole sequence I’m unsure cause I fell asleep while reading it and had a dream involving the characters. Did I read it or dream it?

But I do remember the sense of isolation and cold wonder that possessed Raskolnikov.

I read ‘The Black Tulip’, an amazing book…about which I could tell you very little at this point. But I do remember feeling transported and enmeshed in the world of French horticulture in days gone by. Note the vague time reference as I can’t remember in which century the story was set.

One of my favorite random books of all time was ‘Earl in the Yellow Shirt’, a book whose plot points entirely escape me. But I do remember the feel of being trapped in a small Southern town with few options.

There’s another book about a hydrocephalic kid who lives in the swamp with his dad and gets involved in an armed robbery. I can’t even remember the title. But I do remember the disconcerting feeling of reality and non-reality as the narrative wavered between the various points of view, including that of the slow-witted protagonist.

Therein lies the trick, the beauty of a good book. Even when details and facts elude, something remains. That’s when the author got it right, made the reader feel something. Is that usable? Can you plan on the selective memory of a fickle consumer of the written word?


But you can keep things consistent; maintain an internal reality that doesn’t jar the reader out of their suspension of disbelief. You can make the people believable; keep reactions within explainable human psychology no matter how crazy a situation you’ve cooked up. You can make it encompassing; however much or little you tell, make sure you have a clear idea of the entire universe in which your story takes place, the universe into which they slip page by page.

Good luck with all that, and happy ficlying.

5 comments Posted 2010-07-26 Author: THX 0477


  • blusparrow (LoA)

    ahhh Crime and Punishment, I had to read that book this past school year. Very great advice as usual THX =)

  • bluefish

    I always have to remind myself that, no matter how much I build up a world or slide in different layers of meaning, my readers will always walk away with at least a slightly different idea of what I wanted to say, and they’ll remember only pieces of the whole thing.

    But if they remember it at all, I think I’ve done good.

  • Marli

    I never revisit anything. Life is too short. I understand where you are coming from though THX.

  • Anonymuncule

    I read something once, I forget where, which claimed that telepathy was live and well in modern day. It said writers were just telepathic mediums attempting to use language for purposes of transmitting our thoughts to others. Some writers are successful. They put you in the world they want you to see, make you feel what they want you to feel, and you end up thinking what they want you to think. Other writers fail miserably.

    I started a journal when I was in Iraq the first time because I didn’t want to forget things that had happened in my life. Most importantly, I didn’t want things to change over the years as I remembered them wrong. Later, in a psychology class, we discussed how memory is imperfect. People store things incorrectly, recall them differently, and change them each time we return them to storage.

    We’re cursed with a big sponge of malfunctioning neural tissue that alters our reality even as we experience it. Committing memory to text makes things at least partially resistant to failing.

  • Ana Cristina

    I’m the same way — I forget character names and sometimes even entire plots of books. What stays with me is the mood, the tone, the atmosphere. They get under my skin and stay there, long after I’ve forgotten the author’s name.