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  1. Ms. DiAnonyma
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    Ms. DiAnonyma Active Member

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    Amnesia... just forget about it?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ms. DiAnonyma, Feb 2, 2016.

    I've been finding two interesting things as I do research for a story that involves amnesia. Firstly, that there is a lot of mystery around the actual processes that cause psychological/psychogenic amnesia (the kind I'm mostly looking at), and that there's a lot of eye-rolling, 'another cliche?'-groaning when its used in fiction.
    Is it something I should just avoid until I feel like I've got a more solid grip on my technical writing skills (execution), or just write in until I've got the whole story out and then work with editing it out?

    I actually have two cases that I'm considering.

    The second makes more sense than the first: guy gets captured and tortured, loses most all of his memory, including his name(s- he's had several), and recovers slowly. I know, I know, such total amnesia is rare; in my fantasy setting, its practically unheard of. But, given what he goes through, I consider his case more plausible.

    The other is a bit harder... A four-year-old boy is suddenly wrested from the rest of his family, and adopted by strangers (loving strangers, but completely different people than the family he's used to). Naturally, I'd expect his memories of his family to fade into his subconscious... but when he meets up with the other members of his family (20 years later), would it be too unrealistic for these memories to somehow be stirred back up? (His older sister, grown up looks just like his mother as he last saw her, and I was considering that as one potential trigger). My idea of that making more sense was: he's not left to just naturally forget all these things, but someone suppresses his memories/locks them up (hypnotherapy?)- and some sort of trigger would unlock them later. (And no, I'm not using any magic in this fantasy, so I've also eliminated the convenient spell.)

    Too far-fetched for you as a reader? Too cliche?

    Thanks for your feedback!
     
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  2. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    Take my like for the title.

    Ignore the eye-rolling, groaning, and burn the computer you used to type "cliche."

    I'll accept either premise, especially with the psychological damage the characters would be put through. Someone in a normal capacity can lie their way into believing something did or did not actually happen. Special circumstances would exacerbate that.
     
  3. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wish I could remember the name of the book, but . . . it's the memoir of a woman in Philadelphia several years ago who was hit by a car, and suffered a severe case of amnesia. So bad, in fact, that when she woke up she was like a two or three year old. She didn't recognize anyone, had a very short temper and no social restraint, and had to learn basic life skills like speaking, eating, and dressing herself all over again (her husband should be up for sainthood). One thing that stood out was how her old self favored very conservative clothing: skirts and dresses in tan and beige, but her new self insisted on pants suits in bright, even flamboyant colors. She even insisted on getting her hair dyed fiery red.

    The point is, maybe the amnesia "cliche" is only a cliche because writers don't take it far enough. The amnesiac characters only seem to forget enough to make them mysterious, romantic, or sympathetic. You never hear about them acting like oversized frustrated children because they can't cope with not knowing who they are or what they're supposed to be doing. Or about the changes that a head injury like that might produce in their personalities.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
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  4. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    The latter seems more plausible to me, but even then it's a stretch - we don't retain a lot of memories from that young an age, even subconsciously, as far as I'm aware. I would suggest looking into traumatic dissociation and memory loss in pre-teens, you'll find many examples of people who can't remember great chunks on their childhood due to traumatic experiences. It's an interesting topic, but can also go horribly wrong for you if you don't put a ton of research into it.

    Good luck!
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
  5. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    The first is entirely possible, but he would have to be separated at birth, four years is too long.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    In my second novel which I have fully drafted but not started writing, I'm using drug induced amnesia. It is in the future so I have some creative license there.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with @Catrin Lewis - the part I generally find far-fetched about amnesia stories is that the character is damaged badly enough to lose all memories, but every other aspect of brain functioning is completely intact. Especially when the memories are only of people/places, but the character still remembers everything else, like how to take an elevator, use a computer, etc.

    I'm also a bit concerned that your first scenario sounds a bit like Jason Bourne? (Although that series obviously hasn't suffered too much from its issues of realism!)
     
  8. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    @BayView Except Jason Bourne Amnesia is psychogenic amnesia, specific to autobiographical memory loss. That's why I consider amnesia to be so easy to exploit as a plot device. Science is good at categorizing, and can point to pictures of the brain and say yeah, that correlates with amnesia, but causes and specific symptoms of amnesia can have medicine just shrug it's shoulders.
     
  9. R.K. Blackburn
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    R.K. Blackburn Member

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    It's fiction! Write it well enough to be believed.
     
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  10. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I'd like to argue this point in particular, since while these amnesia cases are fictional, people who have experienced amnesia are not all fictional constructs. I've seen how frustrated people with schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder get at constantly being misrepresented in fiction, often in ways that impact how other people treat them. For a variety of reasons, amnesia isn't directly comparable to either of those conditions, but I do think there's some obligation to be true to real-life experiences and not spread more misconceptions.

    Honestly, the best I can tell you is to learn more about amnesia from people who've experienced it. Case studies are good, memoirs are great, and first-hand interviews are priceless if you can get them.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That bolded part is the hard part.
     
  12. R.K. Blackburn
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    R.K. Blackburn Member

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  13. Ms. DiAnonyma
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    Ms. DiAnonyma Active Member

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    Thanks for all the input!

    Researching doesn't look like it'll be too hard- its a fascinating subject (at least for me).

    [QUOTE="BayView, post: 1410587, member: 66590"
    I'm also a bit concerned that your first scenario sounds a bit like Jason Bourne? (Although that series obviously hasn't suffered too much from its issues of realism!)[/QUOTE]
    Me too!

    I mean, as the author of my character, I consider him fairly different (not just b/c of the fantasy setting). But the multiple prior identities added to the psychogenic/dissociative amnesia will probably add up to something that more than one person will compare to Jason Bourne (less assassin, but as a rebel and an intelligence agent, I'm pretty sure my character's killed people). Yes, the issue of sorting out his identity is thematic, but it starts long before he loses his memory (-not from head trauma, as most people seem to be thinking?)

    Yes, it does seem rather a shame that we stick only with one type (and generally do it wrong!) in fiction, but really, do I need to educate the readers?
    How can I keep people from confusing the different types of amnesia?* In a (non-magical) fantasy setting? (Words like psychogenic and retrograde seem as anachronistic as kairosclerosis- a concept that perfectly applies to a character, but just doesn't "fit" stylistically.

    *Here are a couple links with simple descriptions and explanations for those potentially interested; there's lots more, easily found.
    http://www.human-memory.net/disorders_amnesia.html
    http://www.human-memory.net/disorders_psychogenic.html
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9673.php
     
  14. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    If you're interested in amnesia and have educated yourself on it, I'd actually consider it a huge bonus if you took the opportunity to educate the reader, too. I think a big part of why amnesia is considered such a cliche is because it's often presented in an incredibly unnuanced way that always just works however is convenient to the plot. I'm personally really interested in various mental illnesses and do my best to write mentally ill character with life experiences and symptoms that (I hope) come across as genuine and real regardless of plot convenience, and use them as mouthpieces (hopefully not too heavy-handedly) to sneakily educate about their respective illnesses. I think it'd be really cool to see an honest attempt at portraying amnesia in a similar fashion. Put in the effort and research and do it, cliche be damned.

    As for delineating different types of amnesia in a setting where certain words/terms don't fit, I'd say just describe things. Instead of "Jen had anterograde amnesia", "Jen had lost the ability to easily form new memories"; instead of "Jen had retrograde amnesia", "Jen's memories had slipped away from her", or whatever. Or if it fits your setting, come up with a fantasy concept that's described the way antero/retrograde amnesia would be described, just called brain blight or something.
     
  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, this is off-topic, but...

    You're writing fantasy without magic? I always thought magic was a central element in fantasy.

    Just saying. I know very little about fantasy, so for all I know, there's an entire branch of the genre that has no magic. I was just surprised by this.
     
  16. Ms. DiAnonyma
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    Ms. DiAnonyma Active Member

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    I don't think it's a particularly large branch ;-)
    Magic (and bizarre races for that matter too) just didn't happen to fit with the story (which I considered trying to fit somewhere into Earth's history- see post
    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/help-my-fantasy-story-might-be-transmogrifying-or-am-i-still-writing-fantasy.143463/
     
  17. sherryboo
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    sherryboo New Member

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    I saw your question on 'amnesia' and had to reply. I was diagnosed with selective amnesia when my mother died, at the age of 8. I can remember some things up to that age but I have no memories what so ever of my mom. I am 44 now. So, amnesia happens more often in the real world than people think. Good luck with your writing!
     
  18. Ms. DiAnonyma
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    Ms. DiAnonyma Active Member

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    Thank you for replying, sherryboo!

    I'm so sorry about that. It does seem like a subject that most of us have hardly more than fictional knowledge and awareness of- and so often even the research doesn't come close enough to the actual experience.
     
  19. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Things get jogged from our subconsciousness occasionally. I don't think the latter scenario seems far fetched at all. I have very real memories from that age, and one from even younger that my mother once confirmed did happen. I remember being in a car seat, don't know how young I was, but I do know that my father left when I was about a year and a half old, and driving through one of those beer-barn places. My mom and dad were arguing (he was an alcoholic). I told my mom about this weird feeling/memory I had every time I drove past one of those places that felt like a dream, and she told me that it was not a dream, it was one of the last nights we all went out to eat together as a family before my dad left for good. She was shocked that I recalled it.

    The point? I don't think it's all that far-fetched. Four year olds are more self-aware than you realize, and it seems plausible that they'd hang on to some memories, especially given the traumatic nature of your story, even if they're vague enough not to be fully remembered without a trigger (seeing his real family).
     

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