#wipMadness Day 19: Memories That Matter

IMG_0979 - Version 2Heritage items intrigue me although I’ve never been one to collect antiques. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, either. I like things with a history that is significant to my family — with some kind of personal connection. That’s why I treasure this glassware. I doubt the pieces have any monetary value, but they belonged to my maternal grandmother. They are older than I am, and I remember her using them on special occasions during my childhood.

IMG_0980 - Version 2Is it the memories or the items themselves that attract me? In this case, definitely it’s the memories. My personal taste doesn’t lean towards ornate anything, but I keep these pieces displayed in our china cabinet and enjoy my regular glimpses even if I don’t normally use them.

Memories are a big part of our existence, and yet when it comes to giving memories to my fictional characters, I forget how important they are.

After spending time creating  plot, conflict, and setting, too often I let my characters’ personalities develop solely through their actions and words. Without a past, characters can be two-dimensional. I’m trying to correct that in this manuscript. One of the reasons my progress has been so slow during March Madness, is because I’m taking time to get to know my characters better … finding out what happened in their past that is bound to influence their present.

Q4U: Do you give your characters a past, complete with memories that play a part in your story?


Denise tells me she’s drawn the name of another prize winner. This time it’s… (insert drumroll here)…


Yay! Congratulations, Tanya!!! You can stop by Denise’s goal-setting post to select your prize from those that haven’t been crossed off the list, and then email Denise your choice at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com  .

We’re almost three-quarters through the month. (Can you believe Spring arrives tomorrow?) Are you satisfied with the progress you’re making towards your March goals? If not, what can you do differently during the next ten days that will leave you with good memories of the month’s achievement when it’s over? There’s still time to make your efforts count, Wipsters! 🙂

And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette de la Luna!

~  ~  ~

19 thoughts on “#wipMadness Day 19: Memories That Matter

  1. Memories! That’s a great point, Carol. This particular WIP could use a little attention to her past. I sometimes worry about getting bogged down with backstory, but that is a little different than memories. You’ve just given me another piece to the puzzle. Thanks!

    • Carol says:

      There are so many pieces to fit into a story puzzle, aren’t there? I’m glad this has helped. And yes, backstory isn’t the same as memories in writing — the difference is in how we use them. 🙂

  2. One of my earliest “writing exercises” were Character Sketches back in the day when I first started with online RPGs. They were quite different than the ones we see today. Back then, a simple yahoo group or forum was home to our versions of Buffy, the Later Years, Star Trek, or any other book or show we wanted to do differently. Each person was responsible for a character and wrote a post (complete with narrative, dialogue, etc.) before tagging another character. We auditioned for the roles and each post we wrote was pretty much a continuation of a writing critique group.

    Some games included made-up characters and other games were entirely comprised of our own characters, so these sketches often took a lot of time to get through. I wove so many things into their backstory, including memories, that these characters were alive to me.

    While I don’t go to the extent of these sketches now, the thought put into character creation is still the same. I sometimes do character interviews and ask the characters difficult questions to get them riled up before they reply. I’ve learned new things about them I wouldn’t have considered before. Depth and a fuller character are the end result–at least, I hope so!

    And yes… I still think all my characters are real people. 🙂

    • Carol says:

      How great to have had that group to share in those useful exercises! In his Snowflake Method of planning a story, Randy Ingermanson recommends writing a detailed ‘character synopsis’ before getting into the writing of a story. However we choose to approach it, getting to know our characters has to make writing their story easier.

  3. Congrats, Tanya!

    Ah…memories. One of the challenges of my last book was that the characters were based on well-known historical figures—and as it turns out, people have strong opinions about those figures, which I didn’t realize while writing the book. Their “pasts” were created for me, but in bringing the characters to a modern setting, I not only had to create new memories for them, but I also had to make sure they made sense within the context of their real-life past…and the past I’d created for their modern selves.

    In my current WIP, that challenge is less daunting (all made up characters this round!) and I LOVE creating backstory, complete with memories…but my weakness sometimes lies in not adding TOO much backstory. Tis a fine balance :-/

    Sidenote: my husband has taken up a new hobby of collecting “old money” and while I roll my eyes sometimes at his excitement over a vintage $2 bill, I can appreciate the historic aspect, and have enjoyed attending auctions with him. There are some beautiful items—including gorgeous glassware like your grandmother’s. (I love the red!)

    • Carol says:

      Merging real and imaginary memories would certainly create a unique challenge! You’ve hit on an important fact, too: knowing the backstory and memories and using them in the story are two different things. Both will affect how a character reacts in certain situations but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know what they are.

      I can appreciate your husband’s hobby. Old money doesn’t excite me (although I kept a silver dollar from my birth year…does that count?), but old books do. Not all old books, but ones with poetry or a special author that I particularly like.

  4. Rachel Wood says:

    I love delving into memories- and thanks Carol- your lovely prize arrived yesterday! Now I’m all decked out to write wherever I am! I have a lot of memories of my dad’s place of birth and in particular items and locations related to that. I spent each summer with my grandma in a tiny prairie town and used to sneak into an old school that had been built in 1923. Lots of memories about that- and it’s served as a location for a few of my mystery stories. When they tore it down my friends and I scoured the town dump for the bricks and I took two home with me. One is in the now abandoned lot where my grandma’s house used to be and the other one is with me. I’ve carried that heavy memory with me to dozens of homes and apartments. That red brick seems to make it into a lot of stories and a few character backgrounds as well! Happy writing everyone!

    • Carol says:

      Thanks for letting me know the writing-on-the-go kit arrived promptly, Rachel. I hope you’ll find it useful.

      I love your account of the old school, and that you’ve kept those bricks as mementos. The one you keep with you must be a powerful writing talisman.

  5. Darlene says:

    I love those pieces of old cranberry glass. What a great memory! I too need to include some memories in my character. Even though Amanda is only 12 years old, she has some memories. Thanks for this post.

    • Carol says:

      Yes, age is irrelevant when it comes to memories. We all have them. Your Amanda is gathering new ones with each adventure, too. 🙂

  6. Kim Baccellila says:

    I love items my mother has sent me from her grandmother and mother. My all time favorite has to be this one handmade quilt. My great-grandmother used to make porcelain dolls. I was able to choose one after her death. These pieces keep the memories alive. I was very close with my grandmother.

    I have to say memories do play a big part of my writing. In my current project, I’m using some memories of my great-something grandfather and his part when he followed Mormon prophet Brigham Young to Deseret(Utah). He was given the calling to settle Farmington, Utah. Lots of good stuff to draw on.

    I feel like I’ve gone forward two steps and back one with this project. I get so discouraged and wonder if it’ll be ‘good’ enough to query. I know I can have a small press pick it up but I want an agent and more options that I’m limited to with what I currently have. **Like more exposure at ALA, BEA, and other book events, plus film options, and of course foreign rights.

    Then I realize I need to be courageous and finish it and go through the whole process. It’ll never go anywhere unless I do that!

    I also decided to take my local OCCRWA’s advice and enter the contests.

    • Carol says:

      How wonderful that you have your “great-something” grandfather’s memories to draw upon! That sounds like a rich heritage.

      You’re experiencing the same insecurities that plague all of us at some point during the journey. Are we fooling ourselves about our ability to create a marketable story? But don’t let the inner voices distract you from your goal. Use your determination to finish and enter contests to fuel your efforts and you’ll get there.

  7. Shari Green says:

    I love the “treasures” that have been passed on to me over the years. Some maybe aren’t worth much money-wise, but memory-wise they’ve made me a rich woman. 🙂

    Great point about including memories for our characters. I tend to let backstory develop gradually as I get to know the character, which means I need to then re-shape earlier bits of my story to reflect that backstory. Efficient? Not so much, but I’ve never been able to get into using those character worksheets/charts, especially before I’ve even written a first draft. (More and more, I’m learning to see my first draft as a glorified outline…me telling myself what I think the story is.)

    As for my goals, I’m just about where I should be at this point in March. The last week of the month is super-busy with the day job (and night job), so I’m aiming to get a little ahead of the game before that hits.

    • Carol says:

      I don’t suppose it matters how we come up with the knowledge of our characters, as long as we do, and ultimately make use of them. Those of us who are pantsers often don’t even know the story twists until after we’ve encountered them, so the first draft simply provides a foundation for the revisions that will develop the story into what it was meant to become. (What a convoluted sentence!)

      I’m jealous of you being on track with your goals. You’re setting a wonderful example for the rest of us (even if I haven’t been taking it). 😉

  8. elderfox says:

    Hi m’friend…When I went back to Missouri with Ted I drove him around to all the places I’d been…of course a lot had changed, even the home I’d lived in with my mother and her parents, and the brick school house I attended (where 1st thru 8th grades sat together — it was a small town) 🙂

    And there was always cranberry glass on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Re “M_M”, I’ve gotten the Blog(s) ready for transferring but still have a lot to do on the romance (does reading “How To” count?) 🙂

    • Carol says:

      What great memories you must have experienced on that Missouri trip! (And you’ll have brought home even more to continue treasuring.)

      Glad to hear you’ve made progress on blog posts. You’d better get them up because I’ll be over to check them out soon. 😉 Maybe some of our other Wipsters will also stop by to read them, too. (Elderfox’s Blog is here.) Yes, reading for ‘how to’ ideas and research is a part of the writing process, but it only counts if we utilize the information — we can’t read indefinitely. We have to write, too, if we want to reach our goals.

  9. Tanya says:

    Ahhh!! I haven’t won anything in years, what an encouragement! Thanks! 😀
    I love creating memories and back story for my characters! It’s probably one of my favorite things. With my current WIP I realized I was flashing back so much to my MC’s memories that I needed to go back and start my story much earlier in her life. Major change, but an exciting one! So, while I haven’t exactly meet my goals so far this month, I feel really good about the progress I have made. This group has made all the difference. Thanks to all of you!

    • Carol says:

      Isn’t it great when revelations pop up and provide inspiration for a story? So glad to hear you’re making good progress and finding your fellow Wipsters helpful. Congratulations again on winning this week’s prize.

  10. Aquawrites says:

    I love when one of these posts triggers an ‘aha’ moment. I tend to easily come up with backstory events for my characters, but have strugled with defining how they have reacted emotionally to those events. The obvious reactions and feeling show up, but I’ve been trying to get deeper into my characters feelings. Memories are often triggered by objects, smells, and sounds. I have been focusing more on the event triggerd than the emotion. Somehow the way you worded it clicked for me.

    Some people suggest writing a diary for your characters. I never wrote a diary for myself so I found that felt artificial. But I grew up with stories of my families past that always involed how they felt about the event. Maybe I’m more of an aural person when it comes to memories. New avenues to explore. Thanks.

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