Don’t believe your characters

I loved this post by . How many times have I used a character to retell the history of my hero or heroine? Tons…and each time, I fail to take into account the impact personality and memory biases would have on the tale. My character told the story exactly as it happened. That’s unrealistic.

It would be more interesting if my character forgot something, a part, that messed up the story. It would also be more interesting if they were biased against the hero and told an edited version of the story.

Reality says that even if they weren’t biased or had forgotten something, they’re not reporters. They’re people. They weren’t simply standing around waiting for the events to happen so they could remember them. They were busy living. They probably remember what they were doing that day more than what actually happened.

Ms. Fairwin mentions two main reasons against a character remembering things accurately.

Positive Emotion, “… positive emotion following the accomplishment of a goal—like feeling good after seeing your favourite team win at a sport—can lead to attention and memorybroadening. In other words, you’re more likely to take in and remember the details that are a core part of the scene—like the players as they’re battling it out for sports supremacy—and the background details—like the setting in which this heroic battle is taking place.”

Negative Emotion, “As with feeling positive emotion when pursuing a goal, negative emotion can narrow attention and memory to the core features of a scene. And it makes sense—if something causes you a negative emotion, like fear or anger, it’s likely a threat, and so you zoom in on the thing making you feel that way. The stuff around it is less important and so you’re less likely to remember it.”

Excellent tips. A great post and one that got me thinking of all sorts of possibilities for my book! A big thank you to Skye Fairwin for the inspiration!


11 thoughts on “Don’t believe your characters

  1. Ages ago there was a silly and forgettable romantic comedy, “He Said, She Said”. It was the story of a failing relationship shown from both of their points of view. Of course the two stories were completely different. At the end they both remember a detail that allows them to reconcile. Although the movie was silly it did bring out some good points about how different characters remember the same events.

  2. Gosh, thank you so much for the mention, Taylor! I’m so glad this post helped you 🙂

    I love reading stories with unreliable narrators, whose memories and opinions have been biased in one way or another. The ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R. R. Martin does it really well. It’s so much fun as a reader to piece together all the information and learn interesting morsels about a character in the process. When it comes to character personalities, I often find the information they misremember more telling than the stuff they actually do remember, which makes distorted memories a great tool for a writer!

    Thanks again for the mention, Taylor! It’s made my day 🙂

    • Aw! Thank you for the lovely comment. I loved the post. In fact, I loved the entire idea of psychology for writers and your site. Thank you for getting it going. I intend to go back to it for insight, inspiration and help.

  3. This reminds me of the classic film Rashoman by Kurosawa. The entire film is told from multiple perspectives, until the actual story is incredibly unclear by the end. An unreliable narrator can be quite fun.

  4. Pingback: Readers’ Choice | Taylor Grace

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