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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Amnesia---um I forgot my question...

   
Author Topic: Amnesia---um I forgot my question...
Zero
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No I didn't.

I have a character who is suffering, briefly, from amnesia. It isn't a "real" kind of amnesia, in that the explanation for his amnesia is fictional. (It involves a kind of brain surgery we aren't capable of yet scientifically.) However, before the reader actually learns the cause (100 pages later), I want the symptoms of my MC's amnesia to be believable, and, frankly, I've made two stabs at it but just am not happy with my arbitrarily hand-picked symptoms. Meaning what, specifically, he forgot.

Mainly I want to know how much a person should remember and how much they shouldn't. More specifically, what kinds of things stay rooted in the memory what kinds of things are lost? I'm sure there is a high degree of variance but at the end of the day a given person with amnesia who doesn't directly remember who he is, despite retaining a few cloudy memories, would he still remember the president of the united states? Would he remember what his tastes are, favorite food, clothes, things of that nature? Etc


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Balthasar
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Seems to me you haven't asked the right question yet -- at least not to us. Which is understandable, since we don't know the story. But it seems to me that if your MC has amnesia, at least part of what he doesn't remember -- if not ALL OF IT -- should be very important to the plot. In other words, if he can't remember what his favorite shirt is, that should play a role in the story. Why do I say this? Because I, as a reader, would be paying very close attention to what the MC had forgotten because I would assume the writer was setting up something both clever and powerful.

So for me, that's the most important issue at hand.


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debhoag
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amnesia can take many different forms. It can be temporary or permanent, it can affect short term memory (what I had for breakfast) or long term memory (what i had for breakfast five years ago), and often the person who suffers memory loss in facing something traumatic and the traumatic incidents in his/her life are what is forgotten. For instance, a man who is going through a horrible divorce and gets wacked in the head may loose his memory of the marriage crumbling and believe everything is as it was when the couple were happy.Or forget being married all together. Sometimes memories surface through the subconscious, manifesting as dreams or "flashbacks". And often the earlier we have learned something, the more likely is is we will retain it. i.e. walking, talking. Based on this, you could play pretty loose with it, as long as the symptoms you give are consistent with each other throughout the story. If you gave me some specifics, I could give you a summary of psych stuff that would apply. Let me know. If the person forgets basics like talking/walking, I would suspect that there has been more serious brain function compromise than simple loss of memory, and that would probably indicate a lower likelyhood of reversal.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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dont worry it happens to the best of us.

isuffer from memory loss cuppled with ADD. i will e doing something and right in the middle of doing it i forget what i was doing. usuly i will stand there trying for the life of me to reamber what i was doing. i usuly reamber by looking at what is infront of me. aalthou i would have no memory of waht i was doing i will work on what ever is infront of me.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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Zero
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I guess a more important question, for me, is: "would a character remembering the president of the united states and all of the states of the union be believable if he has forgotten his own name and who his mother is?"
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lehollis
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The question seems to be more about how to make it believable, than how it works into the plot. I'm assuming it is already worked it into a plot.

My understanding is amnesia can be funny. The "rules" don't often make sense. From what I understand, remembering facts about the world while nothing about yourself is common. However, I think doubt also plays a part. Is he sure that's the current president? Maybe that is just the last one he remembers? Maybe that's a clue as to why he doesn't remember?

I spoke to an amnesia victim once, and this is what my impression was. He also mentioned meeting his wife. He knew she was his wife from pictures in his wallet, but she as strange to him as any stranger. He tried to pretend to recognize her, but she saw through it--and it hurt her feelings.

The only reason he arrived at the hospital is because some teens thought he looked lost. He was wandering around a parking lot trying to remember who he was and where he lived. He was a block from his home, and nothing looked familiar. It was like being in a new city that he'd never seen.

Yet, he remembered things about the world. He knew what mountains were when he saw them, as well as a video store and so forth. So, an amnesiac could likely get along in the world just fine. I think they could drive a car and follow a map and buy groceries, etc. (Though they wouldn't remember what groceries they usually bought or liked, as I understand it.)

Hopefully that helps. I'd expect one or two good resources to be found online, too. (More authoritative than mine, even.)


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Spaceman
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quote:
I want the symptoms of my MC's amnesia to be believable

Find and read a copy of Nick Sagan's Idlewild. He does masterfully exactly what you are trying to do.


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Zero
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Thanks everyone, especially Lehollis, I found your comment especially helpful.

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Zero
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debhoag,
Somehow I didn't even register your post when I was glazing through the responses. Thanks for the insight, so, to clarify what the situation is a bit. Our character has recently had a brain surgery that was (quite intentionally) a surgery on his memories. This was five years previous to the story and because of a synergy of his allergy, and two particular medicines (as I invent) he has a relapse and is in a state of selective amnesia. It is now up to me to select what he remembers and what he doesn't. Aside form what is plot important I'd like to create his symptoms believably. Especially since the complete cause of his amnesia is unclear for a while.

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debhoag
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it would be hard to do a general surgery that completely removes a memory, because different components of memory are stored in different places. Say a man remembers bringing roses to his high school sweetheart. The visual memory is stored one place, the olfactory another, the audial another. That might be the "relapse" that is triggered. In the original surgery, you go in and stimulate parts of the brain selectively until you find the memory you want to erase, then cauterize the site, but there would always be 'echo' memories stored in other spots. If the later incident triggered 'echo memories" you could make a pretty new age-scientific case for that.
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Zero
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What are "echo memories" exactly? Redundant memories?
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franc li
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quote:
long term memory (what i had for breakfast five years ago)

Apparently I have long-term amnesia.

The thing about something as pervasive as memory of his mother is that mother probably has a smell assigned to it, a couple of visual addresses (like how to recognize her generally, and also maybe a couple of photographs) and various family events. The whole Christmas and Easter file is probably littered with Mom, as well as the guilt file for forgotten Mother's day, and in a complex character, possibly Freudian referents. But he might not be able to remember her name for a variety of reasons that could be very specific without losing her whole identity.


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