Can you imagine a future memory? When we think in the present that some day we will look back at a moment-is that a future memory?
“A man’s life is nothing but an extended trek through the detours of art to recapture those one or two moments when his heart first opened.” — Albert Camus
Where does this quote take you? When did your heart first open? Where were you?
Go there! Write.
“In an essay on the art of fiction that deals partly with Mr. McEwan’s work in her new book, ”Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing,” Margaret Atwood poses three questions to herself and other novelists:
Who are you writing for? Why do you do it? And where does it come from?
Mr. McEwan answered them in quick succession: ”I think you could only do it for yourself under the assumption that if you like it, someone else might like it, too. Why do it? I think it’s impossible not to. Not to write seems to me to be a gross rebuke of the gift of consciousness. Where does it come from? You have to dig fairly deeply and relax your control of it, unless you’re a genre writer and can say, ‘I’m going to write about the colonization of Mars.’ ” Fiction, he said, ”is a random, associative business, just the white noise of daydreaming thought.”
When you recreate an event that has elements of real life and you change the characters, you run the risk of your sister, or your mother or father informing you it’s wrong. You already know you have strayed from the truth but you change the characters to make work as fiction. It isn’t just history.
Look at your memory from a different perspective:
My memory (age 6?)
Mom & Sink-We had moved into the farmhouse and it was a shambles. The tenant farmer who lived there before us was a widower, his name was Samson, and he put garbage in the roof, which I thought was amazing. I think it was meant to serve as insulation. We had no heat or air conditioning and it was very hot. My mother had promised to take us (myself& two sisters) to a pool. We had been laying on the ‘island’ a patch of grass in the center of the driveway while she did whatever grownups do in houses when you are dying to swim. I was sent by my sisters to find out why she hadn’t come outside and upstairs in the only bathroom she was doing something with her foot on the sink. Just as I asked when she’d be ready, the entire sink fell off the wall. My mother sat on the edge of the bathtub and cried. I had never seen her cry. My mother didn’t cry.
Imagine this story told from the mothers POV.
Writing Exercise: Tell one of your memories from another character’s Point-of-View.
Family stories filled with tales of immigration, alienation, marriages, deaths, betrayals and resurrections are an amazing resource but can also handicap the writer who worries about the accuracy or the hurt feelings. Don’t. Every story has its own reality and all things can be embellished or reset so the original becomes something wholly different.
Retell a family story. Choose an event that occurred either before your time or one that you witnessed. Fully describe the place and the characters and add dialogue if appropriate. Your reader doesn’t know any of these people or the place. Bring them to life.
Molly Moynahan graduated from The MFA Program at Brooklyn College with her first novel published by Harper & Row, Parting is All We Know of Heaven (1988). She published novel #2 in 1990, Living in Arcadia (Bantam-Transworld) and Novel # 3, Stone Garden (HarperCollins-2003), Stone Garden was a New York Times Notable book. She has been teaching creative writing for 20+ years at Universities (Rutgers, SMU, Loyola, DePaul) and as a high school English teacher. She writes a column for The Neworld Review called A Writer’s World.