Questions 3: Using Amnesia in Fiction

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Here we are at the end of a really odd weekly topic.  Maybe I stretched this out for too, but I don’t remember what started it.  Funny how such a complicated medical issue can be used so casually and ‘simply’ in fiction.  Shows how we can get away with no research at some points.  Might not be the best way to go, so maybe these questions can help us use the trope better.

  1. How do you think amnesia should be used in fiction?
  2. How would you handle having amnesia?
  3. How would you handle a loved one having amnesia?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to Questions 3: Using Amnesia in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    1. With care. I love how it was handled in the Bourne movies. And Tor has this list: https://www.tor.com/2020/09/18/five-unforgettable-books-involving-amnesia/ A writer needs to make the storyline compelling enough so that the reader can suspend disbelief.
    2. I’ve never attempted amnesia because I didn’t have the storyline for it.
    3. I would need to be emotionally ready to handle something like that since such a storyline really needs emotional weight to be believable. This is not a surface-level situation. I can’t help thinking of movies that have a tangential tie to this—like the movie starring Drew Barrymore where she had memory loss and the guy who loved her had to keep winning her over each time. Or the movies where a loved one has Alzheimer’s and the family members have to deal with the constant pain of it.

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    • 1. Good point. Suspension of disbelief might be key here. The tough thing would be getting through a reader’s immediate response to seeing amnesia appearing in a story. From what I’ve sensed this week, many will quit a story as soon as that’s thrown into the mix.

      2. It’s a little intimidating, huh?

      3. I wonder if people can handle Alzheimer’s a little better than trauma-induced amnesia. We’ve almost come to expect memory loss at certain ages, so it hurts with a little less sting to some. If it’s a younger person, the amnesia becomes harder to wrap our heads around. It’s no longer caused by the usual suspects that we can chalk up to the usual reasons.

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  2. I think it should be used sparingly, and only after considering whether you bring something fresh to the table. How I would handle it, proposes kind of a time-travel loop. Whatever I had planned, I wouldn’t remember if I had amnesia. I would be a mess if a loved one suffered from this. I’ve been through dementia with some elder relatives, and it’s soul sucking.

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    • Curious how the time-travel loop would work. I’ve seen that a lot with the rewind where characters don’t remember that they’ve been through things before. At least until one catches on the truth or a 3rd party gets involved.

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  3. I think amnesia should be used to add a touch of mystery to a story. Having a character who needs help with remembering some events would be a nice plot for a hero.
    I would handle amnesia as a short-term situation that includes spotty bits of memory loss.
    A loved one with amnesia could be the focal point for how the amnesia happened and what was forgotten. Therefore, the loved one would need to be nurtured during the course of amnesia.

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  4. 1. How do you think amnesia should be used in fiction?
    Amnesia is a disability, and it should be treated like one. So you should prepare for the story by reading the life stories of people who had been through it. Let their experiences shape how the plot unfolds. Think of all the ways such a disability effects the character, the limitations is imposes. Consider how society responds to them in big things and little things.

    2. How would you handle having amnesia?
    Me, personally? I would probably be extremely defensive and hostile, especially when people claimed to be related or such. I would need evidence, like photos of us together, before I believed it.

    3. How would you handle a loved one having amnesia?
    Given the state of health care in our country, I would probably become a caregiver and it would be like caring for a relative with dementia. Incredible patience and devotion.

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    • 1. True, but I guess it also depends on the type of story. If it’s being used as a character trait instead of a plot point then it might not need to be as thoroughly investigated. Still, it does tend to overshadow other parts of a story.

      2. I’ve always wondered if hostility would be the more common reaction.

      3. Good point about the healthcare situation.

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  5. V.M.Sang says:

    I would research it very carefully, as I do all sicknesses in my novels. I think it would be very difficult to write.
    I think I would be frightened if I couldn’t remember people who said they were my family and friends, and be worried some people might be taking advantage for their own ends. But I think fear would be the strongest emotion I would feel.
    How would I handle a loved one having amnesia? Very carefully. I think it would be difficult, but I don’t believe that I would try to force the return of memories. Gentle reminders, every so often, is what I think I’d do.

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  6. Victoria Zigler says:

    1. It should be thoroughly researched, used with caution, and used only if it brings something to the story.
    2. I’m not 100% certain, but chances are I’d be defensive, and suspicious of everyone.
    3. Mostly with patience and understanding, but it will be laced with frustration, and I know there will be times when I’d struggle to deal with the situation.

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