Monday, March 10, 2014

Memories (No, Not the Song)

My apologies for going radio silent on you last week.  After returning from the land of ice and snow (aka Minnesota), I couldn't quite get my feet under me again.  The experience of being surrounded by family again did, however, give me a few ideas that I needed to let sit for a little while before I could express them.

My older brother and his family (wife and eleven-year-old daughter) drove from Baltimore to Minnesota for the funeral.  I hadn't realized it at the time, but his wife and daughter had never met this side of the family before, and so there was a lot of introductions to be made.  As with most family gatherings, there were lots of stories to be told, and my sister-in-law and niece were fascinated by them, as they'd never heard them before.  I found out later that my older brother doesn't talk much about his family life, so they don't hear many tales from the past from him.

What was interesting to me was what kinds of stories everyone told.  Everyone seemed to have a slightly different view on the same events, and each person remembered different events around the same time.  For instance, we discussed how we used to celebrate Easter when my brother and I still lived in Minnesota.  My brother remembered that our dad was fond of hiding un-dyed eggs for the Easter egg hunt, as there was frequently snow still on the ground and it made them next to impossible to find until the spring thaw.  I didn't remember that, exactly - my memories of Easter involved breaking cascarones over people's heads, and needing to ride on my uncle's shoulders in order to reach my dad.  That was something my brother didn't quite remember.

The idea of shared memories, and how they differ person to person, is a solid way of establishing something about a character.  The things they remember, the aspects of a situation that they remember more clearly than others, can tell a reader a lot about what they find important and what events may have shaped them.  Even if you don't write something explicitly into the text, knowing that one character will remember the details of the food at Thanksgiving, while another one will only remember the argument between two of their uncles, can help inform you about your character.  It's another tool in the kit for figuring out who these imaginary people are.