The Motif of Memory

This week the series is memory. 

Memory is an obvious necessity for any memoir, but it takes on a particular function in my story.

Memory, and its enemies denial and forgetting, is at the root of what my story is about–discovering what has been denied and repressed.

Following the book architecture method, I wrote a sentence about the role of memory in Scrap: 

The protagonist’s memory and curiosity are irritants and counterpoint to the father’s secrets and the mother’s denials until the father’s memories are released and the central secret revealed.



To complement the discoveries my protagonist makes, in some scenes I am experimenting with a style that shows the process of memory recovery.

To what extent do you use memory in your writing?


Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

42 responses to “The Motif of Memory

  1. Our personal life experiences almost always play a part in what we write. Even in writing dystopian or fantasy, the themes come from our experiences or those whom we know. In my crime novel, I have created a fictional resort patterned after a real one that I lived at for six years. In the theme, I called on the memories of what it felt like to be alone in NYC when I drew out the character of Cara Kieu…alone in a new world.

    • SK, when I read fantasy or even dystopian stories, what makes them work for me is the connections they have with the real world. The fantastical elements are fun, but the only way I suspend my disbelief is by those elements that remind me of our world. So when the writer draws from her own memories to make that happy, I believe and enjoy. Thanks for giving us such a concrete example!

  2. Memory is at the root of much of my writing (and of most authors, I believe). We have an experience and we can build on it with “what if”s.

    • Yes! The “what if” of imagination! Without that springboard of memory, though, what do writers have? Maybe they have the world around them for description, but no depth and no tie to the way humans act.

  3. I would add one more problem about memory. Sometimes it is wrong. When faced with one of my own exposed false memories I feel depressed but also a little happy because the true memory often blooms for me — I mean I remember what really happened. I don’t know why I have false memories — maybe a combination of denial and forgetting?

    Real memories can also be photographic scraps that, if you start writing about them, expand into movies of memory.

    • The subject of false memories is fascinating. Denial and forgetting could be a reason, but also there seems to be something about portmanteau memories. One memory alters another because we remember them happening together. That seems to me to be one of the worst enemies to memory because it ludicrous. My own memories are frequently found to be pretty correct when I am able to corroborate. I suspect it’s because I am the one in my family to remember things. Everyone else wants to forget, so I took it upon myself from a young age to remember. Probably pathological. And re the photos and movies, that is EXACTLY how I view them. Thank you!

  4. Great explanation of your motif! I’ve written about memories coming up due to a sensory trigger, but I love the idea of secrets and denials thrown into the mix. Fantastic idea.

    • Windy, sensory triggers are amazing–I love them. What distresses me sometimes, though, is that I get a strong sensory trigger, but what the trigger is tied to remains obscure–I have a difficult time thinking of what it reminds me of. That is so frustrating!

  5. A short story I wrote recently involves a character with Alzheimer’s Disease, his memories are all recorded in a journal.
    That photo with the mean looking baby is freaky, Luanne!

    • Oh, I love that idea, Jill! Yes, what a horror–to lose one’s memory and to witness it happening, day by day. I will tell hubby you think his mean baby is freaky (Davy Crockett)! Those are the toys and shoes his mom saved from her kids’ childhoods.

  6. Memory is everything to me. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to make connections and learn, absorb, in such depth.

  7. Those ARE amazing photos, even the mean baby! I think memory feeds all writing–the specific details of scents, sounds, arguments, shrieks of joy, all have their roots there…but I think we help them grow as we weave them into our work…

    • Pam, haha, that baby is Davy Crockett –maybe he has a bear huntin’ expression on his face! What a lovely way to put it: “we help them grow as we weave them into our work.” Yes, beautiful!

  8. I haven’t written in so long, but it definitely played a huge part in my poetry. Especially since so many poems started from dreams – which are all about memory, at least they seem to be.

    • Now that is something I hadn’t thought about: that dreams stem from memories. I’ll have to think on that for a while because I was thinking that a lot of dreams are images put together, collage-like. But maybe all those images are memories or distorted memories?

  9. I started with ten plastic boxes filled with old slides; slides I almost tossed. I found a gadget to scan them onto my laptop. That’s when the process of studying each family moment began for me. I studied every pixel on the print and began to recall so many details. Also, I imagined myself in my grandmother’s home, her cat, her dishes, my conversations with my father, my mother’s passion for all things art and her story telling. I recalled so many memories I asked my sister to share hers. I compared the memories. I reread my old diary.
    Memories, a science of details!

    • Oh Lynne, I’m so loving this! What wonderful ways to jog your memory and to try to be as accurate as possible! Love that you call memories a science of details, too!!! I heard that my parents found some old slides they are saving for me . . . .

  10. I initially had the tag line “a mostly true blog” for the specific purpose of covering my behind when something I remembered didn’t quite measure up with facts others remember. Now, a few years later, I find it almost comical that I ever thought we get the story “right”, and how often, as we perfect it in writing, do we then just throw in a bunch of fiction for interest, humor, grit, or my favorite, to make if seem more realistic to the reader.

    • Hahaha, that last one: I know what you mean! How many times has somebody read something that really happened to me and they assumed it was exaggerated or tweaked to make it more interesting. So funny!

  11. I think this sentence would capture a lot of interest, with the part about memory, secret withheld and the mother’s denials. It is an outstanding sentence!
    I hope that you (or someone in your family) weren’t a victim or there wasn’t any abuse, neglect or molestation. I get that worried feeling from those words you wrote that evoke something sinister in their content. Or something portending or foreboding in your book, Scrap’s plot… Maybe too much of a mystery reader, Luanne! Smiles, Robin

    • Robin, I will set your mind at ease–molestation is not a part of my story. But there was a lot of things to be afraid of–or at least people thought so. 🙂 Mysteries upon mysteries! Thanks for letting me know you were worried, Robin! xoxo

      • I did not think that were true, but wanted you to know I was concerned, hoped that the secrets were not so intimately dangerous. I feel that you had a good, solid core background, but sometimes within this can be hidden secrets that no one could imagine. So sorry, hope I didn’t hurt your feelings or embarrass you by my thoughts… xo Robin

  12. I’m really looking forward to your book, Luanne.

    I use memory in my writing all the time. In fact, that’s most of what I write. But it is hazy and I make stuff up to fill in the blanks. Because I really don’t remember things the same way family members do.

    My brother visited this past weekend. Unusually, we had a lot of 1-1 time to chat (spouses were busy). We could have grown up in different houses, because major events happened to us on a totally different time frame. Different seasons, different years. And my brother claims he was never a jerk, which of course, is close, but not completely true. There was that time in 1970 …

    • Elyse, I did reply to this, but WordPress is screwing around with my responses. Ugh.
      Haha, what happened?!!!!!!!
      Yes, I know what you mean about “could have grown up in different houses.” Part of it for sure is that we are different ages, at different parts of our childhoods than our siblings when stuff occurs, but part of it is how we contextualize it based on what’s happened to us or what we’ve seen or how we process stuff. For instance, I began to process stuff through the books I had read, but my brother never read anything except Conan the Barbarian books, so he did not (except as much as he could through Conan and that was not til high school).

  13. We really need to search through our memories when we write, Luanne. We need to know what things feel like and taste like and what thoughts invade our heads when we’re happy and sad.

    I love the way you refer to denial and forgetting as the enemies of memories. Very clever 😀

    • Dianne, I find myself doing that constantly–searching my memory for sensory details. You’ve given me something to think about: “what thoughts invade our heads when we’re happy and sad.” Well put! Have a great week, Dianne!

  14. Luanne, I frequently use memory in my writing; seems to be a place where my imagination begins. I can riff on a small memory and conjure so many other details that are at work in my life/the world today. I love that I have a solid, pretty efficient memory and a sense of detail that uplifts my writing which I like to be detailed too.

    • Carol, I’ve been thinking about this, wondering if my imagination begins in memory. Sometimes, yes. I am very tied to memory and nostalgia, more so as I get older, and probably at some point that becomes unhealthy–but “writing it out” seems to help. Many times my imagination seems more like a leap that happens when I make associations or notice patterns and new things. I’m also very happy to have a good memory and one that goes back to very early days. I recently discovered that my grandfather had that same type of memory, so I think it’s a gene . . . .

  15. I have a bad memory. I wonder sometimes if that is why I write: I can’t remember much of my childhood and as an adult, my brain often seems like a sieve. It just doesn’t hold memory very well, and my stories are attempts to fill in the gaps somehow. Selective memory abounds in my family (probably in most families). Who wants to remember the bad stuff? Why would my mother want to remember that one of her favorite ways to criticize me when I was a child was to compare me to my father, a man who was not all right in the head? I don’t know if we ever truly forget. There’s an uneasiness that underlies some of my vague memories, like I could never escape at least sensing that something bad happened, even if I can’t remember it. It makes great fodder for stories. With an elusive memory like mine, everything is fair game 🙂

    • Marie, isn’t that amazing that you write to fill in the gaps and I write to rethink the events and see where there might be gaps! Oh, I know what you mean about selective memory!! I think that probably is even more obvious when someone comes from a large family where there are siblings with different accounts.
      I’m so sorry about your mother doing that to you and her not remembering it. I read this after you wrote it and didn’t come back til now, but I’ve not only been thinking about it, you reminded me of a thread that I need in my book that I have ignored!! I feel bad taking your life story and “using” it to remember something about my own! What it is is that my mother too–she always used to say, “You’re just like your father, Luanne,” whenever she wanted to be disparaging. I HATED hearing that, and so often what she was referring to she was wrong about. She happened to be right that we have commonalities, but she always showed a remarkable misunderstanding of me when she said it.
      I do feel that you could be right about the uneasiness you feel around vague memories. Maybe your “bad memory” is a protection?
      Thanks so much for sharing, Marie.

      • Luanne, don’t feel bad at all that my story trigger some memory of your own. I’m happy that happened. Yes, my mother used to say, “You’re just like your father.” And, yup, we had some common traits, but for a long time, it made me worry about my mental health. Took years for me to believe that my father’s mental health problems weren’t genetic.
        I can’t wait to read your memoir when you have it published. It seems like we have some things in common and that can be validating for an author and her readers. 🙂

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