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  1. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Member

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    Is amnesia as a hook still viable?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Zadocfish, Mar 18, 2018.

    I'm probably doing Camp Nano this year, and my one major idea right now revolves around a character with the dreaded amnesia trope, where a character wakes up in an alley and needs to piece together his previous life.

    To make a long story short, I'm worried that it's too cliched to work well. Like, there are some twists and stuff later, but even that's pretty standard for an amnesia story; however, I don't think I can take it out because the plot does kind of require amnesia to work, since without it the conflict kind of falls apart.

    So, here's a brief summary of the story points for context:

    ---
    Basically, the story takes place on a human colony on an alien planet with no apparent intelligent life. The main character wakes up in an alley and finds the information about his identity in his wallet, then goes to his apparent address and tries to fit into his normal life as the research assistant to his xenologist wife.

    It is eventually revealed that the guy is a The Thing-type creature, a collection of single-celled alien organisms able to take the form and function of other cells; the cells form their own faux-neural network, as well. He's an expression of curiosity from a space-going collective alien organism, which communicates through mimicry and physical connection. Basically it mimicked the human form and the infant result got integrated into human society. His human brain, while part of the neural system stretching through all of his cells, is independently active, meaning he only discovers that he's not human during a certain epiphany at the end of the first act.

    The amnesia bit comes not because of that, but because his wife shoots him in the head whenever he "wakes up" to keep him from becoming a political risk to himself and human society as a whole. Sapient aliens are known and accepted, but all of the currently-known sapients come from the same genetic sources as humanity, seemingly seeded from the same source, and most are much less powerful because humanity has the help of artificial intelligences of ancient make. MC's species are the first space-going people who are truly "alien" to humanity, and the only one with capabilities matching humanity's machine benefactors, and so his wife and her bosses are determined to keep him from contacting his species and potentially sparking an inter-species incident.

    He learns, at the turning point of the story, that his amnesia is the result of being shot in the head; his body was able to rebuild itself after the damage, but only the most deeply-ingrained memories could be reconstructed using a cellular pattern once the brain was destroyed, since accessible sensory data is stored in chemicals and electrical impulses in the human brain. The rest of his body can hold sensory data, but it isn't easily accessed by the human brain (like trying to plug a USB into a Micro-USB slot). His body works to "store" more signals in easily-accessed decentralized nervous clusters to avoid this happening again; when he wakes up after regenerating this time, he recalls the events of the previous few minutes vaguely, rather than not at all.

    After that, the story goes into his attempts to retain his knowledge while working out how to contact the rest of his species, all the while his wife seeks more information on said species' culture and history while trying to keep him in the dark about it, so that true "first contact" won't be outside of human control.

    The climax occurs when a massive biological organism appears from space and lands on the planet, then heads toward the human colony.
    ---

    I think the overall plot is... okay, but to get to the point where the plot kicks in there is a lot of fairly standard amnesia tropes to get through, and I worry that most readers won't want to get through it.

    Any advice for a starting writer?
     
  2. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Some solid world-building you got there :agreed: . It doesn't strike me like an amnesia story at all, more like "ET phone home" type of story. I just giggled at the moment where his wife shoots his head off and then he regrows it. It sounds like that moment in "Men In Black" where they shoot an alien but he doesn't like it because it stings so much to regrow heads. I think that even if your particular amnesia moment is trope-ish, all that solid world-building will make it still sound different and new. There is so much going on besides the regular "how can he remember" thread in this story.
     
  3. awkwarddragon

    awkwarddragon Member

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    In my opinion, you can use any cliche you want. It's all about execution; cliches are cliches for a reason. If you have doubts if the amnesia starter won't work, then maybe alter the plot to better fit a different starter. If not, then just write out the story and see how it goes from there.
     
    John-Wayne and LastMindToSanity like this.
  4. Andrew Alvarez

    Andrew Alvarez Senior Member

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    I think amnesia works and, as stated by @awkwarddragon, it's rather a matter of execution. Even today books and movies play more or less subtly with the amnesia themed plots with more or less success, and the interesting detail that makes your plot to highlight is that the source of it for the main character is purposeful and constant... there is a struggle to keep the status quo, rather than simply eradicate your character or plainly lock him into a cage and begin prodding, so absolutely would be interesting to know the deep reasoning on his wife's ambivalence of caring about his safety while blowing his head periodically... intriguing...
     
    LastMindToSanity likes this.
  5. Melissa Parker

    Melissa Parker New Member

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    Instead of calling it amnesia you can research various brain injuries, another of traumatic brain injuries also have the hallmark of the person losing memory, even to the extent of losing perception of time and etc. If your worried about readers seeing "amnesia" and going 'not again' just calling it a traumatic brain injury may be the best way to go.
     
  6. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Member

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    Hm. That's a good idea; a bullet through the frontal cortex would certainly be considered a "traumatic brain injury." Still, I don't think that would fly in-story; since the story starts with him physically healed, he wouldn't show signs of major abrasions or anything like that...
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Garment of Shadows, by Laurie King, 2013, was a New York Times bestseller, with a heavy amnesia element to the plot.

    However, that said, this is part of a series and a large part of the appeal of the book is, I think, the fact that the reader knows the character.
     
  8. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Amnesia is a trope rather than a cliché - at least in my genre (romance). Not sure about sci-fi.
     
  9. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    I'd be more concerned over the whole scenario here. Aliens secretly replacing humans has been done to death, and 'single-celled alien takes human form' was a TNG episode.
     
  10. LastMindToSanity

    LastMindToSanity Contributor Contributor

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    I'm a strong advocate of anything goes.

    Now, that doesn't mean just throw in whatever because you just want it. It means that, as long as it's done well, you can use any tired cliche in the book. It really upsets me when people dismiss cliches because "they're cliches and cliches are bad." They are cliches because they produce strong results when they are done well, so people try to emulate those results. A lot of people believe that simply including cliches makes your work worse, but that isn't true. Cliches that are done poorly make your work worse, cliches done well only serve to enhance it.

    I believe that, when someone intentionally refrains from certain decisions simply because it's been done a lot of times before, they are shooting themselves in the foot and that will inherently make their work worse.

    Or, think of it this way, it's your story! Who gives a damn if there's cliches in it! Did Lord of the Rings intentionally go out of its way to avoid every single cliche? No! Did Harry Potter? Of course not! Go ahead, I want someone to point me to a book that was successful simply because it didn't have any cliches in it. I would be delighted to read it.

    The point is: cliches don't make things inherently worse just because they exist. There are so many loved books out there that have cliches in them, so why do people have such an issue with them? I actually have a theory on that. I believe it's due to the ever popular (What I dub to be) "Hipster Culture" (Yes, I know that I'm using Hipster as an insult here. I just get so upset at them) that has been infecting society. The idea that anything in the "Mainstream" is for garbage losers who don't know what "good" things actually are. Guh! It really sticks in my teeth that people can write something off as trash simply because a lot of people enjoy/do it! Sorry, I know I'm ranting but I just get really fired up about this particular subject. There is nothing inherently wrong with cliches.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Umberto Eco used memory loss as a central element of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, about a decade ago. You can certainly still use it effectively.
     

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