The Big Idea: Caroline Hardaker
The Fallibility of Memory
Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you, only for a friend to interject and tell you that it didn’t happen that way? They’re sure you have it wrong, and they go on to tell the same story with a different slant. But you’re sure too, absolutely sure, that it all happened your way. So why does your friend remember it differently? Who is right?
Perhaps you both are. Or perhaps you’re both wrong.
The fallibility of memory is something I’m hugely interested in, both in psychology and in storytelling. No memory is perfect. Memories filtered both through the emotional state at the time the event was experienced, and filtered again through distance and experience gained since the event. We remember things in a way that helps us cope with what happened. And sometimes we remember in a way that portrays us as the victor or victim, depending on how accountable we can accept ourselves to be.
Writing in the first person means that our lead protagonist – and in the case of Composite Creatures, this is 32 year old Norah – is telling the reader her story. Often I start a story in third person, but always come back to first. For me, a huge part of storytelling is the why. Why are we hearing Norah’s words? What is she trying to prove?
Writing in first person demands that the author take on a role. It’s like being an actor, without the stage costume. We think like them, we talk like them, and we see the world through their eyes. They only know what they know, and only understand what their intellectual level will allow. They also have emotional reasons for sharing their tale, and when the story is told from a point years down the line, you have to take into account the way time twists all memories. Our lives, real or fictional, are the stories we tell ourselves. And we like the sound of some stories more than others, don’t we? Are we a hero? Are we the villain? Very rarely will we remember ourselves to be the villain. I’m sure even the most fascist dictator would portray himself as the humanitarian star. In Composite Creatures, perhaps if Art, Norah’s fiancé, was to tell their story, it might sound quite a bit different, and we’d learn more about Norah’s choices than we do from her.
So you see, there can be some deliberate deception, too. Why is Norah telling her story at the point she’s at? What does she want you to think? Is she even aware that she twists her tale? Is she twisting her tale? And will we ever truly know?