Posted by: victanguera | September 25, 2012

Re-writing Memory—Another Writing Prompt

I have a friend that excels at re-writing her memories to “fit” what she believes. A couple summers ago, while on the phone with her, I saw what I thought were hummingbirds fly through my front yard and off down the block. I exclaimed over the sight. On reflection, they were probably only finches, but it was evening, and hummingbirds are known to congregate in my yard. But not in such large quantities. Recently, my friend has told others about “our” experience seeing the hummingbirds fly through my yard. But she was never there. She’s owned it as if she saw it.

I’m not quite sure how this works. Claiming someone else’s memory or experience as your own. It intrigues me greatly. Like aren’t there great gaps in the vision of the event? How do you make colour, lighting, your own physical placement in the scene fit? To incorporate yourself into someone else’s life like that, you would need to re-envision everything. Although it is the weirest thing to me, it is the type of thing writer’s excel in.

But let’s take it one step further. We create the world our characters live in. We imagine place, setting, interactions. Now what if your character re-imagines those events? What if in a later scene, your character relates information from an event they never saw or took part in? Is it recurring? Why would a person do it? My friend only does this because she wants so badly to have witnessed something like a flock of hummingbirds, so she paints herself into my experience. That makes it real for her. Too bad those hummingbirds were probably just finches.



  1. This must be how they write those books that report conversations between Lincoln and Jefferson or between Hemingway and Fitzgerald — conversations that nobody actually recorded at the time.

    And if course in your friend’s memory those birds will always be humingbirds, because she doesn’t have to deal with the fact that they may have really been finches.

    Of course, this has great applicability for mystery stories, since eyewitness reports are not completely reliable at the best of times…

    • Murder mysteries and how people lie and dissemble information did come to mind as I wrote this post. Memory can be a tricky thing at the best of times, and we often re-write or re-imagine history to suit ourselves.

      It would be interesting to see if anyone has studied Alzheimer’s enough to discover a correlation between that perpetual retelling of personal history and a loss of all memories. Like if you are changing the neuropathways to regularly accept a falsehood, do those pathways eventually break?

      • The thing is that a falsehood counts as that only if one KNOWS what one is saying is untrue; it probably doesn’t apply to such diseases. But would be interesting if it did….

  2. In the: ‘let us creepify this idea’ part of my brain is the idea of someone doing that, but they DO take the memory. It’s theirs now; it was never yours and in time you come to accept that as well…. and, in this case, perhaps that hummingbirds are finches in a case of cognitive dissonance? 🙂

  3. Alcar, that made me laugh. And oh man, I’m going to wind up with Alzheimer’s because I’m the one that wasn’t there. I think :}

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