Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Poll: Juicy Memories or Big Questions?

Over Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with my sister and my mother-in-law about writing. Both of them said that questions about the past, and specifically, questions that sparked memories, inspired them to put words on the page. 

No. Not me. I despise writing exercises like:  Describe the ceiling of the first room you remember sleeping in.  Tell about a time when you should have stopped talking, but didn't. List all your favorite toys, in the order you received them. 

 I would rather write about what could be, not what was.  I know my sister and my mother-in-law are in very good writerly company. Generations of writers have drawn upon memories to spark new stories.  But I still rebel. What inspires me (no surprise to those who read this blog regularly) are the Big Questions.  

I think I'm in the minority, though. To investigate this, I'm running my first poll. It's in the sidebar there. Vote for Juicy Memories or Big Questions.  

I'm fully prepared to be labeled odd.


  1. The thing is, I start with a Big Question (or more likely, a Big What If) and then start hanging tiny scraps of weird memories onto it as I go. I'm a bit of a collage artist that way, making and re-visioning new things from bits and pieces.

    I've always hated those memory-writing exercises because I rarely can recall them on the spot. And in workshops where I hear person after person dredging up deep, emotional memories from the slightest wisp of a prompt I feel a little stupid for not being able to access anything remotely relevant on demand.

    But I do have memories, and stories so weird that I know I'm going to have to incorporate them into my fiction sooner or later. They just aren't what jump-starts the ol' motor.

  2. Big Questions. Definitely. And then, I call on the juicy memories for the story details.

  3. I don't like writing about the past, and frankly, I don't remember what my bedroom looked like as child, or what I wore on the first day of high school. I would much rather think about the whys in life. It's so much more fun.

    See? You're not alone!

  4. Combination for me. Writing as an attempt to answer the big questions with selective memory/personal experience.

  5. Memories, for the fiction writer, are tricky -- and sometimes a trap, because you get bogged down trying to recreate something which is, at best, ephemeral, and at worst, completely artificial. I prefer big questions augmented by juicy memories -- completely altered.

    :D That was helpful, I'm sure.

  6. Count me among those for whom Big Picture questions and memories have a hand-in-glove relationship.

    In answering the Big Picture questions, I like using my personal stories/memories to help illustrate my answers.

  7. I guess I should've added a third choice to my poll: BOTH! (Although which one triggers the writing response is what I was truly asking.)

    I have to admit that I do use memories once I'm off and running. In this latest book, I've used something that my geometry teacher said to me over twenty years ago. (!)

    Maybe those who read my blog are more inclined to be interested in the same things I am. Or the memory people haven't voted yet.

    Or I'm not odd. That's good, too.

  8. May I vote, even if I'm not an author?

    BIG QUESTIONS all the way.

  9. Seriously? Not even close. Big questions. I mean, okay, that's partly 'cause I can't remember anything. But really. I'm with you all the way...

  10. Well, I was chewing on that conversation know, all memories are reconstructive narratives, to some extent. So maybe what's interesting is the Big Question: Why do I remember my story in that particular way?

  11. Not surprisingly, I turn out to be an odd ball.

  12. Give me a Big Question any day....but I might be influeced by what I write.

    When I was dabbling in YA, Juicy Memories brought out the rawest material, and my most compelling prose.

    But as a Picture Book writer, I don't try to remember what it was like to be a kid and capture that on paper. Rather, I try to think like a kid and as a kid-thinker I often find myself asking Big Questions. Because truth be told, kids ask the best, most interesting, least self-critiqued Big Questions.


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