1. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Faking amnesia in a sci-fi thriller

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Rzero, Nov 7, 2018.

    I have a more or less finished outline I plan to post soon for some critiquing (a prospect that terrifies me), but one plot point is bugging me. I'll be as brief as I can, but I promise, the full setup for this is far better thought out than the following synopsis. A couple wakes up with no memory. According to a video they left, they injected themselves with an amnesia drug after an extremely personal loss during the recent viral apocalypse. There's an empty nursery, so they can assume they lost a baby. During the course of the story, the wife uncovers clues that the husband is either regaining his memory or never lost it in the first place. It's sort of a deserted island love story that turns into a thriller.

    I have two decent but admittedly pedestrian examples, and one I just don't like. The track switches on the record they're playing, and he accidentally blurts out, "I love this song." They decide rather hopefully that their memories might be coming back. Later she catches him mouthing the words to a scene in a movie he shouldn't remember.

    I think these are fine. It makes sense to me because either is a mistake one might make out of sheer habit. I won't mention the other because it's boring. I need a third, more concrete event or line of dialog, something more interesting, maybe even frightening. there's physical evidence later on, so I'm not looking for her to find something. I'm open to any ideas, of course, but I want him to actually slip up. I don't know why I'm so blocked on this. Maybe you guys can help.

    Thanks.
     
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  2. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel

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    Sometimes people talk in their sleep.
     
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  3. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Not bad. I've known people to talk in their sleep though (apparently I'm one of them). It's always gibberish. It's practically a staple in storytelling, but it never rings true to me.
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale hostis humani generis Contributor

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    Well, they've got a presumably dead baby and they suspect they've wiped their memories to deal with the trauma. How hard of a wipe is it? I mean, do they have any memories of life together, or did Jessica (adding names for clarity) next to a strange yet reasonable attractive man in an unfamiliar house that has pictures of the two of them in wedding clothes over the fireplace? If they do still know each other to some degree, there could be some tension about exactly why they decided to go for a memory wipe, who suggested it, and what the alternatives were.

    Yeah, something along those lines.
     
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  5. Hammer

    Hammer Member

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    Could the guy accidentally refer to a member of his wife's family? She could be rummaging through a drawer and ask "what's this useless piece of shit?" - "your brother?"

    Throw-away comment or memory?
     
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  6. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Total retrograde wipe. Something like this might work, but they cover those conversations pretty immediately after waking up, and I don't want her to get suspicious for a while. She needs to learn to trust him first or I can't pull the rug out from under her. The first half of the story is about them falling in love, hopefully with less cheese than I just made it sound, but the mutant attack should help with that.
     
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  7. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Really wish I could fix the typo in the thread title. It's driving me a little nuts.
     
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  8. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    I could still use some help here. I thought of a thing or two, but they're just not big enough. Actually, I did like this one idea that she comes across lines in a book that she remembers him quoting verbatim earlier on, even though she knows he hasn't read that book since the supposed memory wipe. It's a lot more damning than the song or the movie clues, especially if it's something he's said more than once, including the day they woke up together. The problem is, now her three initial clues (she finds bigger stuff once she's on to him) are a song, a movie and a book. That is a puke-worthy lack of variety! I'd much rather lose the movie quote and find a third, more left field clue. Any ideas?

    Maybe something about a scar? A photograph? (@Hammer, there may be something there.) The original idea had to do with him accidentally remembering a wine vintage preference, as in "Grab the '97. You hated the '98." Is that maybe not as bad as I thought? Argh! I gotta get rid of this bug and move on. It's eating my brain.
     
  9. Artifacs

    Artifacs Member

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    The guy that pretends having lose his memory has a scar in his back due to some traumatic event in his past. She's aware of the scar but doesn't say anything. She figures out what could happend to him and sets him up to see if he gives himself away.
     
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  10. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you might be blocked because you're thinking of fairly generic examples. You're thinking up ideas rather than letting the ideas emerge organically from the couple's own stories, if you see what I mean.

    For example, when I first met my now-husband, I totally had the hots for him but had the strangest ideas about flirting - basically, I couldn't do it. For some reason, I decided to inform him that I was in fact a crazy pineapple and then made an origami pineapple for him - it was just a yellow paper cube with some green paper stuck on. I was what, 21 probably.

    Now I'm 31 and thinking up a business idea, and I'm coming back to the name Pineapple. My husband likes it, guess why? Not because he'd actually think it's a good name or that it's suitable for the idea I have, but because he remembers the joke. I was the crazy pineapple.

    It's a true story by the way lol.

    Or think Hunger Games. Katniss was the mockingjay. What even is the mockinjay? Suzanne Collins skillfully lets the reader in on how the bird was a failed genetic experiment the Capitol made to try and eavesdrop on their citizens, just to have it backfire and the people started just lying, knowing the mockingjay was gonna take the fake message back. Now Katniss, in the third book, is the mockingjay. We all know what it means - she's the one who subverts and is now going to overthrow the system. and it's powerful because it emerged organically from the story itself, from Katniss' world.

    Anyway, so what's the couple's story? What's the secret they wanted to forget? Because if the slip up was related to the secret, it would be even cooler because then the reader and the character herself can start to piece things back together. What stories are there in your couple's actual history that you can now use for the guy's slip-up? It would be all the more effective if the reader knows the guy shouldn't do/say whatever it is, so that when it happens, the reader will feel it like a punch.

    ETA: your premise sounds like something I'd read, btw :) it sounds awesome.
     
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  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale hostis humani generis Contributor

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    Well shit, that was pretty much missing from the movies...
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Was it? I watched all the films, but only after I'd read the books. I enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd films. I loathed the first one, and was unimpressed by the fourth one. The first book had a lot of exposition really, but it was done well in my opinion and it was always given at a point when I'd be interested in the information. I think the film really struggled to incorporate the world's background, which was crucial to understanding the story and feeling its impact. I assumed it was just the struggles of translating one medium into another.

    I seriously hated the first film... What drove me to read it was really that you couldn't be sure till right at the end that Peeta could be trusted. In the film, though, it was obvious from the start, so in my opinion they completely ruined a core part of the book and the suspense I loved so much in it.
     
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  13. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    I'm with you 100%. Here's the trouble: I'm saving a couple of those for the moment it turns into a horror story. I need these sprinkled moments to build tension and suspicion slowly for the reader and character both. On the other hand, being able to tie the reveal to a one or more of these moments would be fantastic. Should I just say what's really going on? It might help, but I'd rather people read the outline when I post it Monday and see what you think about the progression of the reveal without spoilers. I'm new at this crowd sourced critiquing thing. What would you suggest?
     
  14. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Those movies, especially the first, left out more essential information from the books than Harry Potter did. It's ridiculous.
     
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  15. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's up to you if you wanna wait till Monday. Just bear in mind if you wanna post in the Workshop, you need to fulfill some forum requirements - in your case, it would be the need to have made 2 constructive critiques in the Workshop on someone else's work. I haven't checked your posting history to see if you have done so - I'm just letting you know :)

    Thinking about it, I'm reminded a bit of Inception as well. Mal or whatever the wife's name was - she was always a bit of a twisted, horror-esque element in the film, and it's slowly revealed that Cob was the one responsible for creating "her" as she exists in his dreams. But again, everything was organic from within the film - the spinning top and limbo and their meanings were made clear throughout the film and then reused to do the gradual reveal. I think the organic reveal is still your best bet.

    Why do you wanna keep those moments only at the point when it turns into horror? Because surely the horror should be built gradually, which means there shouldn't be a strict dividing point between generic moments and plot-related moments?
     
  16. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Lively Fred

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    Possibly the wife has moments where she recalls a little piece of something to. So the husband's don't seem that odd.
     
  17. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    I'm all over it. I've been contributing all I can. I'm really enjoying this whole experience. My two weeks are up Monday. That's why I'm waiting.
    Because it's a big reveal. I want things tense; I want that tension to build, but I also want to turn the story sideways all at once. Okay, here it goes. I'm still just looking for help with the original post. I'll submit the real outline for critiquing next week, but here's the context. SPOILERS:

    The crazy short version: They wake up with no memories in a huge house in the middle of the desert and watch a video they made explaining that the world died from a virus and now there are mutants, just a few though. It's not a zombie story. They also took an amnesia drug as an alternative to suicide. (She attempted suicide. He stopped her and came up with the drug idea. He's an anesthesiologist, or was.) He takes off looking for signs of life while she explores the house. There's an empty nursery, a car with no keys, a locked panic room with no code and a less than helpful AI running the house. A burned up, rotted mutant attacks the house while the husband is gone. He arrives and kills it and buries it in the desert. The husband brought back newspapers and things about the virus and the apocalypse and says the town he found was empty but for the dead bodies.

    Over time, they fall for each other. She becomes pregnant. He slips up a few times with the whole memory thing. She grows increasingly suspicious. She finds a note in her own handwriting: "None of this is real! He's a MONSTER!!!" That night she has a dream about being attacked by another mutant out in the desert. The mutant drags her into the house and locks her in the trunk at the foot of the bed, saying in the husband's voice, "I'm sorry, pet. I can't let you leave me." She wakes up and remembers having almost the same dream the morning they woke up together but with a faceless figure instead of a monster. With all the panic and confusion of those first hours, she'd forgotten. She investigates the trunk and finds a four-digit code scratched in by fingernail. She smashes the baby monitor in the nursery. At dinner, she asks him to go into town to find another. He leaves in the morning and she uses the code to get into the panic room. She finds the car keys, divorce papers signed by her but not him and a bunch of videos on a computer. The first set is a sort of video diary the husband kept that tells the story of their marriage falling apart after a miscarriage. He's drunk in the later videos and convinced she's cheating with a colleague at the university. The second set of video files are the ones he used to fake the video they watched the first day. He filmed his part alone and hers at gunpoint. He shows up at the door to the panic room. The bitch AI alerted him when she got past the security door. He admits to everything and says he's just going to have to start all over. There's a big, long, bloody fight. He locks her in the nursery and you can read the rest Monday.
     
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  18. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    By the way, I really respect the reasons behind the rules of posting for critiquing purposes. I'm not trying to backdoor workshop this thing, and I don't want to get in trouble, so please refrain. Besides, the real outline is MUCH better explained and logical and organic (I hope), so I definitely want to wait for Monday before anyone dives into any other issues.
     
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  19. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Rzero - I'd question why on earth the husband left such detailed evidence of his betrayal in the panic room? Why make the evidence in the first place? And why not destroy it after? The big panic room with all the pieces of the puzzle put together is a little convenient for my taste. However, the story sounds awesome so far - right up my alley - although unfortunately I don't do horror (I scare too easily) so depending on how you swing it, it may or may not be a book I'd read :p

    Look forward to your outline on Mon.

    To add: the wife should try and switch off the AI before attempting to enter the panic room, btw. You can have a back up thing restart the AI so you can keep your plot, but the wife definitely needs to try and shut down the AI or she'll appear dumb for not doing so.
     
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  20. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Yay! I'm glad you like it so far. The panic room might be too convenient. I think it makes sense the way I have it presented, and I like the element of an inaccessible trove of potential answers sitting just out of reach throughout the story, taunting the MC like Pandora's Box or a heart under the floorboards. It's so easy to get attached to an aspect that isn't working though, so I'll have to see what people think and trust the process. I think he feels safe keeping his computer locked up. I worry more about the divorce papers in the drawer. Again, we'll see, but thanks for that. I'll put some thought into it. Obvious and convenient is something I want to avoid like a mutant plague.

    As to the AI, she becomes the secondary antagonist and causes all sorts of problems in the third act. The wife will definitely try to shut her down.
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Contact one of the Mods and they should be able to change it for you.
     
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  22. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Alas, like many minor annoyances, I eventually grew fond of it. Besides, thanks to several replies, I've solved the problem and then some. The answer was, not surprisingly, an amalgam of multiple suggestions (thank you @Hammer and @Iain Aschendale) coupled with a rethinking of the issue itself (thank you, @Mckk ) and a little help from God knows where (thank you, elves who live in my head, I presume). I'll be submitting the final(ish) outline to the Writer's Workshop Monday evening. I'm stoked! My first thread went so well. Thanks everybody! :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2018
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  23. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know you said you were fond of the typo, but once I noticed it, I couldn't help but fix it, sorry... :brb:
     
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  24. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    In my head I'm going to start pronouncing it "sc-ifi", with a "K for the "C" and a little glottal stop in between as in "sk...ifi" I won't be able to help it. :crazy:
     
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  25. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    You could twist on their love-making?

    The first time maybe after the amnesia is a tender scene of discovery.

    However, her suspicions are heightened.

    Rather than ejaculating upon her navel and rushing to the bathroom in his tears/whimpering behind a sock [in the dark] - he flips her over a pillow and performs a repertoire more reminiscent of the well-trained house husband, noisy, and includes war-cry.

    Something like that, it doesn't have to be navel and I wish I hadn't typed e*ac*late in public.
     

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