How to Record your Memories
Laying the foundations for Great Autobiographical Fiction
‘Everything tends to become material. When you are writing, you want to use up everything around you., everything that happens to you, everything from you past.
For me, it’s people that I want to get down on page, somehow. They might be people I knew years ago and don’t anymore—they’ve died and moved away. I want them remembered in some way. As large as life.’ (Paul Magrs)
Great characters equals Great Fiction
Great fiction starts with great characters. Bill Sykes (Oliver Twist), Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations), Humbert Humbert (Lolita), Anna Karenina, Forest Gump, Stephen King’s Carrie. And for me, you can add Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars) to this list. All of these leave a lasting impression. At least two of the above have left a permanent imprint on me, which affects everything I write.
If their memory makes you cry, laugh, angry, happy or sad
So, in the literary world it is all about characters. Therefore, your starting point should be the people that have had the greatest affect on your life. Once you get this information down, you’ll find the rest floods out
So how do you start?
Getting your ideas down, I have found, is entirely subjective. Many modern writers like to dictate their notes onto a voice recorder. My advice here is try it. It’s fast, pain free and if it works then great. This never works for me. No sooner have I spoken then it’s gone. When I come to play it back, I can’t remember the context.
Another way is to type it. Again, this is relatively fast and painless. If it works for you, then great. I just find that, sat at my PC, there are so many distractions. The phone rings, something comes to mind that compels me to search on Google. The words are there on screen perfectly formatted, clear, pristine and soulless.
My advice, and the way I’ve found works best for me, is to buy a decent pen and write everything by hand. Use a wide ruled pad that folds at the top, not at the side. You can buy these from Rymans. You’ll find them tucked away in an obscure corner somewhere, like the fossils of a bygone age.
Find the time and the place
Sit at a desk, at a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure you’ve had your fill of coffee first and you’ve rung whoever you intended to. There should be no reason at all to to procrastinate. Then start writing. You’ll find the first paragraph to be hardest, so just write whatever comes to mind and the rest will follow.
Harness your emotions
Remember, you don’t have to use everything in your novel. Get down all the intimate details, the secrets that have burdened you for years. The most important thing here is to be emotive. If you’re crying as you write, make sure this comes across in your notes.
Watch out for writer fatigue
Once you feel the connection with the pen on paper, it will be like your hand is but a printer for your thoughts. An instrument of self-expression. Write for as long as you can without taking a break. When finally, you need another coffee or your head starts to ache, have a break.
Get back in the mood
Once you return, don’t expect the thoughts to flow as freely as before. You might have to start again, just like you did the first paragraph. Try reading the notes you made about a character that provokes a strong emotion.
Utilise your subconscious
And one last tip. Don’t think two hard. Our subconscious memory is like a giant subterranean lake of memories and emotions. A far cry from the tiny storage area in the frontal lobes. It is the subconscious that defines how we interpret, act and feel. If you try too hard to remember, you’ll shift to your conscious memory and much of your feelings will be lost. Once I made this realisation, my writing really took off.
Once you’ve got your ideas down on paper, it’s time to get creative. Be sure to stay tuned to find out how to turn your ideas into a potential plot.
Got anything to add or ask? Do you agree with my selection of great characters? Perhaps you have your own. Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments.