Memories as a Writing Tool

Using memories to write is a great technique, if done correctly. It can give an added depth to the readers experience by strengthening the scene’s clarity and details. There are two ways to use memories when writing (at least that I know of): direct and indirect.

The direct use would be as an actual version of the memory in a scene. The indirect method is to use the emotional aspects of the memory for the purpose of your scene.

A writer must be cautious when using this writing method. If done incorrectly, your experience and emotional connection to the event can replace the narrative voice. It can also end up changing the storyline, plot setting, or even the character itself.

For myself, I have a special technique that I use when preparing a memory for my stories.  I’m sure there’s better ways, easier ways, or “sound-and-true” steps…but I’ll give you my three-phased tips for effectively using memory-based writing:

Phase 1: Finding the Right Memory

  • Open a blank document or get a pen and blank sheet of paper
  • Note some objectives you are trying to accomplish with the particular scene (emotions, story development, character development, etc)
  • Jot down a couple personal memories that match those objectives (the emotions it caused you, the lessons you learned from it, the reaction of the people with you, etc)
  • Decide whether it’ll fit as direct or indirect

It is only at this point that I start recounting the memory and putting it down on paper.

Phase 2: Recounting the Memory

  • Write is all in a past tense, active voice
  • Keep the writing simple and direct…don’t try to be sophisticated
  • Pay attention to the details of the moment
  • Ask other people who were there and note what they experienced (you’d be amazed at the differences)
  • Describe the memory using all five senses (even with an outline method the first round)
  • Seek out visuals like videos, photos, articles, or letters
  • Detail and expand on the things that “outsiders” might not understand (Southern etiquette, nickname origins, regional slang, etc)

Phase 3: The Molding

  • Direct & Indirect: Modify the scene/emotions based on the character’s profile
  • Direct & Indirect: Change the tone to match your narrative voice
  • Direct: Align the setting to match the story and setting
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