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Just A Memory
Category: Writing
Tags: writing devices memory flashbacks writing technique

On Saturday I attended a writing workshop tutored by Anthony J. Quinn, a Northern Irish crime writer. We spent considerable time discussing how to develop three dimensional characters. One of the interesting suggestions he offered was to give your characters memories.

Memories make a character seem more real and can also be used to explain what they think, believe, feel and do. Like real people, characters should have thoughts, feelings and issues from their past that make them who they now are.

The writer needs to weave the memories they create for their characters seamlessly into scenes. When an event happens in the plot, the character may have a one or two sentence thought about the past that relates to the event, or a short flashback to a memory that will give the reader an insight into how the character feels or will react in the present. But it’s important not to let the memory dominate the narrative. Long flashbacks should be avoided as they will slow the pace of the plot.

A character’s memories can be triggered in various ways. A conversation with another character or an event in the plot may make the character remember something from the past. Or seeing a particular object may trigger it. Using an object as the trigger can be particularly useful if it is an item the character sees regularly or possibly one that he owns. This provides the opportunity for the character to be constantly reminded of a particular memory. If it is an unpleasant one this can be used to create anxiety, fear or sadness in the character and add to the tension in the story. If he owns the object that is tied to a powerful memory, this also may say something about him. Why he has kept the object and what it means to him may be important to explore in the story.

Something that triggers a memory doesn’t have to be physical either. In a story that I’m currently working on, one of the main characters has very vivid memories evoked when she hears a particular song. This could work with a film clip or television ad as well. In my story, the memories evoked are good ones but remembering earlier, happy times makes the character sad because she now lives hundreds of miles from the people she cares about and misses them. This illustrates that even a character’s happy memories can be used to create tension and internal conflict in a story.

One of the interesting points the tutor raised yesterday was that the landscape and the weather can both be used to evoke memories for a character. Selectively using items in the landscape, such as perhaps a dead tree or dark hills, can set the character off on a frightening or sad memory, whereas the sight of a field filled with meadow flowers on a summer’s day will likely trigger happier memories for the character.  

Another interesting point to consider when creating memories for characters is that the memory doesn’t have to be accurate or reliable. The character doesn’t necessarily have to remember the past as it actually happened. This can highlight the character’s concerns, fears, desires and pre-occupations. An inaccurate memory may cause the character to feel aggrieved about something in his past and give him ‘an axe to grind’ in the present. Or it may give him unrealistic hopes and expectations about how his present should be. This could also be used as the trigger for the conflict in the plot. If the character eventually realises the inaccuracy of his memory this might provoke changes to his actions and thoughts and resolve a conflict. Or he may never realise his error and this could set him on a path to his own destruction. It depends on the type of story you wish to write.

So, when you are writing a story, allow your character to think and remember. This will draw him off the page and make him seem more real and believable to the reader. 

This Week On Writers Abroad
Category: Site News

Several of our members spent an enjoyable Saturday evening together last weekend (as well as meeting on Sunday too). Of course, it ended too soon and we have all returned to our own places now. There’s just the photos in Members Meet to remind us of the weekend. So I guess we better get back to our writing.

Monday Muse: Bieke has supplied 5 diverse sentences to stimulate our imaginations as well as an intriguing image. Why are the items in the image lying there? I think the sentences could be used as first sentences or jumping off points into plots.

Blog: Laura examines the pitfalls of multi-tasking in our hectic society and asks whether it is the best way to write productively.

Bragging Stool: Congratulations to Lesley on being longlisted in Chris Fielder’s “To Hull and Back” contest. Vanessa has received a different but no less impressive accolade this week. Her story, The Beekeeper, is being studied by students in Denmark as part of a project they are doing on Corsica.  

It’s almost halfway through the month and things are very quiet so far in the September Challenge. There is more activity in Works in Progress though. Eight stories and poems have been receiving comments during the week.

Just a reminder: The deadline for submissions to the next issue of our magazine is 30th September but we are encouraged to submit material earlier if possible.

Our next formal chat is on Sunday, 25th September, 11am CET. 

Have a good writing week.




What Should I Write? Tags: writing techniques

Sometimes when I sit down to write I wonder what should I write. How can I create a story that is so original and astounding that readers will be immediately enthralled by it? What sort of story do I need to write to do that? I’m under a lot of pressure before I even pick up my pen or tap the keyboard.  

A writer friend of mine often says that he wants to create edgy writing. Another writer friend of ours says she’s not sure what he means. It’s a term I’ve heard bandied about recently in relation to writing and it seems to be something many of my writer friends are striving for. I think I know what my friend is talking about but, just to be sure, I looked up ‘edgy’ in

Here’s the 3 definitions it gives: 

  1. nervously irritable; impatient and anxious.
  2. sharp-edged; sharply defined, as outlines.  
  3. daringly innovative; on the cutting edge.

I imagine my writer friend doesn’t mean ‘nervously irritable’ or ‘sharp-edged’ writing. So I assume he must be referring to ‘daringly innovative’. So, is this the type of writing I need to produce to enthrall my readers? My friend is passionate about developing this writing style but I’m afraid I don’t share his enthusiasm for pushing the boundaries in writing. It’s just not my style. And I doubt many of the stories I’ve written will be ever be described as ‘edgy’.

So what do writers need to do to create stories that will be eagerly read? The answer may seem too simple but I think we need to write stories that our readers want to read.  One of the best reasons for creating a story in a particular style or format is because it’s what our readers want. Writers are encouraged to ‘write for your market’ and this is good advice if we want our work to be read. We need to have a good idea of who reads our work and what they really like about it.

I write mostly historical sagas and the occasional contemporary story. But, no matter what genre you write in, it isn’t necessary to come up with amazingly original ideas that have never been used in that genre before in order to enthrall your readers. Being too different may even displease them. I want my stories to catch readers’ attention not because they are dramatically different than anything else they have read but because their familiarity touches readers’ hearts. I think that readers sometimes just want more of what they already enjoy.

At the heart of my stories there are emotional dilemmas that are common to many of us and I hope my characters’ struggles will resonate with my readers: negotiating mother-daughter relationships, letting down barriers to form new relationships, grappling with fear, dealing with past mistakes and, for those of us who are ex-pats, embracing a new life in a strange land. Emotional dilemmas and the complexities of the relationships between the characters can be explored in most genres and are fundamental building blocks for stories. How they are presented can be molded to fit the expectations of readers in the genre you are writing in.  

Readers often describe my stories as ‘heart-warming’, ‘uplifting’ or ‘cheering’: the kind to be read when you want to be entertained and reminded that life is good. These words are sometimes considered old fashioned but there are still people who want to read this type of story. Others may prefer to be frightened by a horror story or gripped by a thriller. Readers experience different emotional responses to each genre. Writers need to know what readers expect to experience when they read a story. So, when I sit down to write, I don’t have to create something completely original and different than anything that has gone before. I just have to write something that will create the emotional buzz that connects with my readers.

What types of stories resonate with your readers and how do you give them what they want?



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