Emotion and Memory Connect or Die

I’ve always been fascinated by the books, music, and films I just can’t forget. Out of all of the information that I’ve perused, reviewed, watched, heard, or been exposed to (and my buddy on a bender running through the street wearing nothing but a smile does not count), why do some particular pieces stick with me? This is especially true even when the writing wasn’t that great in parts, or the overall idea had holes, or the film’s technical weaknesses made it frustrating to watch at times.

There are a lot of prolific writers out there. And between their first book and their 30th, many just miss so terribly that if you were a newby just coming across him/her the first time you’d think, “Why the hell am I not making millions by now?”

A good reason might be that I just haven’t figured out how to push the right buttons yet.

Emotion enhances memory, and the more intense the emotion, the intense the memory. Or at least that’s the idea. So when I remember the first time read Neromancer by William Gibson, or flew through Wrinkles In Time or the nights listening to the Pixies or Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or even when saw Caddyshack or the Usual Suspects (twice back-to-back cause it was just that good), I am actually re-experiencing those original moments and the feelings I had.

Now the difficult part is capturing the reader’s emotions like those great artists grabbed mine. After investing hours upon hours hunching over a computer keyboard and getting lost in a story that is sometimes painful, sometimes funny, and sometimes just plain frustrating, I am emotionally connected. Unfortunately, this does not mean it translates to any readers. Why do they torture me so?

So with every new creative piece I read it over and over. Then I read over it again, examining the characters, the things they experience, and how I can make their experiences more cogent, more meaningful.

Of course, memory is a funny thing. The more you say something, the more likely it strays from the truth, and the more likely details are added and distorted and grow out of proportion. So during all these reviews I may have actually lost its truth, the things that made it emotionally viable for the audience.

Conversely, if you want this to stay true, don’t retell it.

I started all this thinking on the topic after Dave White discussed the writing process a while back. And I started to wonder if revision kills a piece, just takes the juice out of it. How we as writers just search for just the right balance of giving the story life and stabbing it to death.

“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream, it’s my nightmare. Crawling, slipping along the edge of a straight razor and surviving….”

So who is an obsessive reviser? Do you find people saying your story is just missing “something”? Or who just write one and done? or maybe two at most before sending out? Are you all finding more success in reaching your audience? Just curious…..

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By Chad Rohrbacher

3 comments on “Emotion and Memory Connect or Die

  1. I think a writer could be driven insane trying to figure out what that “thing” is that is going to make it click with readers, which is probably what leads some to excessive revision. I’m somewhere in between the one-or-two-and-done and the obsessive. When it seems good to me, I call it good, but usually if there is a good editor involved there will still be a change or two. And when I come back to stuff later I always see things I wish I’d done different. But I’m definitely not one of those people who are going to agonize over a story for months and months, or take years and years to perfect “my novel.” I don’t have the patience for that.

  2. After years of “obsessive revising”, I said “To hell with it” and decided to enjoy my own writing. I had spent so much time trying to find my voice that I pretty much destroyed it. In 2007, I moved to Bulgaria (for 7 mos.), vowing to friends and family that I would send regular email updates. I thought it would be fun to relate daily or weekly stories about the crazy things I experienced overseas.
    I spent the first month writing and re-writing, editing, throwing out junk, writing again, etc. Meanwhile, back home, people were wondering if I’d fallen off a cliff. So, I wrote a simple but creative tale about the flight over, and tried to focus on the humor I’d experienced in the event. I forced myself to hit ‘send’ without revising, and it hurt. However, the response from family and friends was amazing. No one asked me to publish anything (ha), but I received positive comments about my own writing style, and my personality seemed to shine through. Granted, it IS family and friends, and other than a few pieces for school, I haven’t strayed too far past that safety net – but I have become much more comfortable with leaving a setting or a character ‘as-is” because it is the way I see it.
    My advice to any writer is to focus on what that “thing” is for YOU. Your writing is not going to please every reader, and you may never make millions. But you may end up with a decent following, simply because your voice is your own.
    Now, I just need to replace ‘relate’ with a word that has more energy, and the second paragraph really is rubbish…

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