1. Fluxhavok
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    Fluxhavok Active Member

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    amnesia and such

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fluxhavok, May 15, 2008.

    i don't know if this belongs in char development or in the plot help section. but i just wanted to know why so many writers overuse the whole amnesia/from a small secluded island where nothing ever happens/ "i just woke from a coma" scenario. i mean, yes it's an easy way to skip MC history and personality traits in the beginning and get straight to the story. also in fantasy and sci fi it gives you a good reason to explain all the little details of the world/magic/science around the mc, because (having amnesia) he is just as new to everything as you are. is this just part of writing? it just seems like an easy way out to me. sorry for all the errors i have 5 minutes to write and go and time is up now, i'll come back and edit later but i want to hear peoples ideas on this. do you use these ideas alot?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a way to explore the "nature vs nurture" question. Take away a person's past and then show what aspects of their behavior remains intact.

    I agree that it is an overused cliche though.
     
  3. TheFedoraPirate
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    TheFedoraPirate Contributing Member

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    Even that reasoning is kind of odd as amnesia doesn't result in total memory loss (they usually can still drive a car, dress themselves, use a fork and knife etc.).
     
  4. Kaij
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    Kaij Senior Member

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    Hm, in my novel, I can't remember a lot of things, but with a certain key, all my memories start to come back to me one by one. And when the memories come back, bad things happen. To put it in simple terms, the master cast a spell over me and drained the memories from my mind, placing them into a key. The key is used for different purposes within the story.

    Another book of mine, a little girl in the first chapter has amnesia to a certain extent. She can't remember things by trying to think of them. Rather, when she gets scared, everything comes back to her. Since she dies in the first chapter from an attack, her parents explain this to an investigator.

    I agree that this can be an overused cliche to a certain effect. It just depends on how the person uses the amnesia. To totally forget something, there had to be some kind of event that triggered it, yeah? And like Fedora stated, amnesia isn't total memory loss. Unless, of course, this does happen on rare occasions?
     
  5. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    There is a reason for that- episodic and procedural (memory of events, and of processes respectively) are stored in different parts of the brain. Ergo, it is unlikely both will be compromised, with episodic being the most frequently affected. Memory was one of the more interesting aspects I studied in psychology.
     
  6. MumblingSage
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    MumblingSage Contributing Member

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    It's also a way to show the world through an outsider's eyes, so the writer can explain all the intricacies of the setting without 'as you know, Bob'. It is an easy way out, and on its way out, I think, since many people find it cliche.

    I do have a soft spot for people mystriously found under mysterious circumstances, though. But amnesia is getting overdone even there.
     
  7. Crazy Ivan
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    Crazy Ivan Contributing Member

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    I agree that amnesia is quickly becoming an annoying trope. But it's always been an ambition of mine to overturn this by having a kid fake amnesia, like at his school or something. It would be the perfect way to hit the 'reboot' button on your life, because nothing would attach to you anymore. I imagine the story would be fun.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Although the amnesia plot device can be pretty tedious, I have seen it used a few times to good effect. One that comes to mind was a fun little episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled Tabula Rasa (Blank Slate). In typical Joss Whedon fashion, although this episode was mostly comic in tone, it was also pivotal in the story arc. But the amnesia element was used to highlight the core personalities of the characters and how they might interact without all their personal history together.
     
  9. Al B
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    Al B Senior Member

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    It can be interesting to use it, but for me it would really have to have some relevance to the tale itself to not appear simply a lazy gimmick. In, for example, the movies Memento and Total Recall (and the stories from which they derive), it's central to the tale, so it's great in those, but as a cheesy way to sidestep things, it's something I'd prefer people also sidestepped, being one from the 'I woke up and it was all a dream' school of cliches.

    Al
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also known as the "Dallas Rewind" ;)
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my opinion, amnesia is just another writing tool that, when used correctly, adds to plot or character development. It's amazingly versatile, ranging from trauma based short-term loss of memory to the deep memory shielding that accompanies multiple personalities. It can also be narrowly defined...like the manic depression sufferer who is perfectly normal except for one encapsulated delusion. THIS IS A TRUE STORY! I once knew a man who ran a large organization as a very accomplished manager. He took vacation at exactly the same time every year, and had done so, for twenty years. One summer, the demands of his occupation prevented him from leaving. He disappeared anyway, causing a massive manhunt. When they found him, he was naked on top of a small mountain in Kentucky, building a large bonfire. It turns out he was signaling alien invaders that Earth knew they were coming and we were prepared to defend ourselves. Even in therapy, he could not recall why he was on that mountain. It came out under hypnosis by our clinic psychologist. (Yes, as a young man I once ran a mental health clinic...this story is true but I changed certain facts to prevent anyone from identifying the man involved.)

    Here are some common causes of amnesia:

    - Trauma induced: For example, can't remember an automobile collision or the immediate aftermath; or the details from during a rape; or the acute treatment in a field hospital following a severe combat injury. This does NOT require actual head trauma.

    - Brain injury induced: Classic...knock on the head, can't remember the past. This is usually transient, marked by scattered memory epiphanies triggered by familiarity.

    - Drug induced: Wide range of degree in severity, usually related to the drug user's personal reaction to the drugs. For example, one person might have a pleasant and brief experience from taking LSD, while another person suffers loss of memories and flash backs for years to come.

    - Anticipation or anxiety induced: Dread of being caught...like a spouse experiencing an overwhelming mix of guilt and fear-of-getting-caught for an extramarital affair. She runs away, turning up a thousand miles away without any memory of the journey. (This "amnesia" usually proves to be false, but in some cases, may be legitimate.)

    - Idiopathic amnesia: Unknown cause; these are rare but do happen and the recovery can range from abrupt, to never, to gradual return of memory...usually starting with distant childhood mind visions.

    - Serious psychiatric disorders: schizophrenia, dissociative disorders like multiple personalities (Jekyll and Hyde), and severe Manic Depression all offer a writer creative uses of "amnesia".

    The bottom line on amnesia is that it must be believable and integral to the plot, otherwise, it detracts from the story line.

    Just my 2 cents.
     
  12. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    In the novel I keep working on but never write, I've tried to deconstruct the amnesia trope.
    The main character finds a girl-in-a-box, and when she wakes up she's got no memory of who she is.
    It later turns out that it's not that she's forgotten, but that she really doesn't have a memory. She's a homonculus, which in the story is a cross between a Golem, a clone, or an android, and the main character is the one who woke her up.


    Then again, I use amnesia more traditionally in another one of my stories. The main character repressed her memories of everything before she went to Baltimore. But then again, it's one of those psychological "what is real?" things, like uh, Session 9 and the like. She was raped, which was there just so I could add another one of the Seven Sins and give her reason to repress things.
     
  13. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would be fun to do a writing contest with the following parameters:

    "A young woman wakes up from a coma with full amnesia. She is in the last month or two of a pregnancy and still shows some bruises on her arms and neck. Of course, she asks her nurse the cliche questions about where she is but the nurse refuses to answer. Several hours pass, still with no answers to her questions. Then, Special Agent Winslow enters her room and introduces himself."

    The story must begin with the wake-up scene and character development, featuring this woman who has no memory! After that, write anything you wish, including your own title. Minimum story length of 4000 words.

    Any takers?
     
  14. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess it is. Then again, it's more like she imprinted on him.

    And, I think I would like to write about
    Of course, I'd turn it into a love story between her and Agent Winslow.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Memory loss due to head trauma - more info.

    I had a professor in a brain and perception class who drilled into us:

    "No RA without PTA" - No retrograde amnesia without post-traumatic amnesia.

    What this means is that if the person cannot remember events over some priod of time preceding the trauma, he or she will also have memory loss extending from when the trauma took place to some period of time afterward. The victim will NOT remember the incident that led to the head trauma.

    Also, this kind of memory loss is permanent.
     
  16. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cog,

    When I took a neuroanatomy course at UC Riverside many years ago, the prof covered loss of memory only as it related to organic brain disease or physical brain trauma. I learned about other causes of amnesia after I went to work in the mental health field. The point to all these posts about variations of the amnesia theme is that a writer CAN use amnesia as a literary tool but it carries with it the burden of research and believability. I would caution any writer to study this subject thoroughly before using it in a story.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed 100%. I think that goes with any kind of medical, psychological, or scientific plot element.

    Always assume your readers are "smarter than the average bear."

    The more research you can do, the better.
     
  18. Fluxhavok
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    Fluxhavok Active Member

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    why's it called the "dallas rewind?"
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The TV series Dallas decided to erase an entire season when they decided killing off Bobby Ewing was a mistake. So at the end of the season, Bobby was in the shower, and either he or his wife (I think it was his wife) commented on the bizarre dream...

    It was one of the most horrible plot devices in TV history.
     

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