How Memory Can Inspire Fiction

This is what Wikipedia says about Memory:

Memory is the faculty of the brain by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. Memory is vital to experiences; it is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action.

The funny thing about memory is that it’s not always accurate or even complete. We remember moments, not whole days. Memories are often like snapshots, not movies that can be replayed.

If you’re a writer, these snapshots—even if they aren’t complete pictures—can be a jumping off point for your fiction.

In 2006, when I was just starting to write with the intent of someday publishing my books, I had a conversation with a friend. He reminded me of a day as teenagers when we played golf in a junior tournament on the South Shore of Massachusetts. In a rush of memory, the events of the day came back at me: the anxiety of the game, the sudden downpour, and the subsequent humiliation of being soaking wet in a light colored shirt in front of a group of strangers—all boys.

The only other thing I remember about that day is that my friend literally gave me the shirt off his back. Strangely, he doesn’t remember it the same way. After that conversation, I found myself knee deep in a box of pictures. The actual photograph of the four of us brought back more memories. Playing golf with my brother and those boys all summer—the smells of the golf course, the banter, even the music we listened to in the car. Weirdly, the color of his shirt was different than what I remember, but so many other sensory details were vivid.

It took me less than a day to write the short story. “The Knight in Tan Khakis” was published in Golfer Girl Magazine in 2008 (good luck if you can find it; it’s a collector’s item today!). I had taken one, tiny memory about a girl embarrassed, but strong in the face of humiliation, and a boy who did something small, but important, to help his friend—and written a narrative that filled in the gaps of my memory with fiction. I asked, “what if?” and took the story from there. The end result wasn’t so much memoir, as it was a daydream.

But I wanted to write more. These characters who suddenly were not me and my friends became larger in my brain—they were taking up space. They demanded that I tell more of their story. What other memories could I take and reframe into a fictional narrative?

The end result is my #YA novel FALLING FOR WONDER BOY—so much of the story is grounded in my memory: The golf course, the tiny details of how my dad liked to keep the shop cold and the conditions of the course, the lazy summer afternoons we spent sitting outside in the sun, the exchange students from London. The crushes I had on the boys. Or one boy in particular. All things that made a perfect backdrop for a Young Adult novel.

And yet, my memory did not provide for a compelling plot. There were no mysteries to solve back then. There was no bully or financial crisis. The boy in question was a friend and nothing more. The book wasn’t going to be a memoir of my life—but, I could ask “what if?” and fill in the gaps in the narrative.

From the very beginning, I knew my characters. I breathed the same air as they did. I knew their environment. It was easy to imagine them in situations. I just made them live in situations that had so many bigger stakes than my own.

It took another decade for this book to come to fruition—and it feels so much more personal than anything else I’ve ever written. And sometimes, now, my memories get caught up in the novel—what really DID happen?

If you are thinking about using your memories as a jumping off point for a novel, my advice is to read an old journal. Look at a yearbook, or an old picture. Find a small detail that you can spin into a narrative. Maybe it’s a name or a moment. Or a phrase or a building. Maybe it’s the smell of something or a taste of a childhood favorite food. All of these things can be a memory woven into a narrative. All you have to do is ask “what if?”

The picture that brought back my memories of that day on the golf course is below. I can still look at it and remember how nervous and excited I was as we drove to the tournament. If you look carefully at the body language in the picture, I bet you can fill in some of the gaps in the story without me telling you who inspired which character in FALLING FOR WONDER BOY.

Wonder Boy_blurred face

What real-life events have inspired YOUR writing?

 

falling for wonder boy

 

FALLING FOR WONDER BOY, The Vernon High Chronicles Book #2
By Kristine Carlson Asselin
Available from Wicked Whale Press and Amazon

 

 

4 comments

  1. Great [post Kris! I love how memories can become a “what if” jumping off point and it was fascinating to see how you did that to create FALLING FOR WONDER BOY!

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  2. Kris, so interesting! It’s always that way with memory. Two people at the same place remember it differently. I love the photo and glad it sparked your awesome story. Different activities with my grandson have sparked many of my picture book manuscripts!

    Like

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