Last week I asked, Why do we read the same book over and over? Or watch a movie countless times? And then suggested, Because something in that particular story at that particular season of our life spoke directly into our hearts.
Whenever we participate in a family event, or tradition, we carry into the experience all our memories of before. Our personal echoes, whether positive or negative, are attached to us, and are necessary for our present reality just as Peter Pan’s shadow must be re-attached to complete him. Like a parable there is a surface story and also an undercurrent story that produces an emotional resonance within us every time we remember. These stories help define our desire to continue our family heritage or choose to break away from harmful patterns of behavior.
Family memories are a significant bridge across cultures and generations. Birth, death, education, weddings, parties, and relatives are all common ground even when the actual reality differs widely. Taping into memories that every one can identify with adds impact to our writing. We will either bond from similar feelings or empathize with more compassion the ones that we never imagined.
In the young adult novel Keeper of the Isis Light, by Monica Hughes, the reader immediately is pulled into Olwen’s life as she celebrates her 16th birthday, which counts as her tenth on the planet Isis, and at the same time is stricken by the circumstances that she has spent the last ten years as an orphan growing up in solitude with only someone she calls Guardian. Empathy and curiosity pull us into her story even though it is set on a far off planet. She is real—her emotions are real—her solitude is real. And that impact carries us all the way to the surprising twist at the end of how in fact she survived. Her birthday—a common ground memory—lays the foundation.
Reading scripture stories gives us a language for our faith journey. And builds in memories for when we might be faced with moral or faith commitments. The memories of how others coped in difficult situations can become path stones for our own choices as well as for our characters. We may not be called to cross a Red Sea, as did the Israelites, but the courage to take the bridge out of town and begin a new way of living can have a similar exodus journey.
Our past histories can leave markings on our souls as clear as lines on a paper map. Sometimes they’re so worn and smudged we don’t recognize their influence, positive or negative, until we come to that corner in the middle of choice. And that is how we want our readers to react when our characters are faced with life-changing decisions.
We squirm and bite our nails, hold our breath, warn them “no don’t” or “take a chance”, because we relate deep down in our own heart experiences. Using memories honestly helps us write with impact.
Share: When you were a child what family story did you want to hear over and over again? Or did not want to hear?