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That Damn Amnesia

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 30, 2017
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Amnesia is a very frequently used plot device in narrative works, especially in genres like romance or mystery or melodrama. It’s a perfect way to achieve either of the following (or all):
(a) Draw out a story that should have wrapped up already
(b) Reuse a character’s ‘naïve’ stage of development some more
© Give the villain time to regroup and continue shenanigans
(d) Redo the first stages of romance / threaten to destroy the already existing romance
(e) Let the macguffin fall into the wrong hands / relay information to the antagonist side that the character would never otherwise reveal (and the author can’t think of another way)

I hate the ‘temporary amnesia’ cop out. It always frustrates the audience (as it’s usually used towards the third act and while several things have already developed in the earlier two acts of a story/plot) by forcing the dynamic of the story to feel as being “back to square one”. It also is not such a tame beast as fiction would have us think- it doesn’t come and go like a cold. It doesn’t return with a bump in the head. It doesn’t always return with more shock or trauma, or triggering memories.
Retrograde amnesia, as is the official term for the type of amnesia popular in fiction, also doesn’t often make a person forget all things that happened months before its cause- it usually causes people to forget specific things recent to the trauma’s onset, or even just the trauma related events, while remembering more and more earlier events. It can also be permanent and has no cure. (i.e., the spontaneous recovery cannot be controlled, it happens on its own, if it happens)

What I’m saying is that often amnesia is portrayed extremely well tailored to the needs of the authors, which makes it feel like a gimmick rather than an actual plot twist, used to manage to do things (especially in TV shows) that otherwise the authors couldn’t write into the script, rather than for the merit of the story and its needs.

That said, of course amnesia can be used well for a story. I just don’t see it often.

comment

anonymous?

Hawk at 1:01PM, Oct. 7, 2017

Well-written, Tantz-Aerine. I've always hated amnesia in stories because it's always used for the gimmicks you mentioned. It's a story crutch. I'll bet a person could make a decent story about amnesia if that's what the whole story was about and it dealt with the long term struggles of a person with memory loss. And keep it medically accurate!

EssayBee at 7:28AM, Oct. 2, 2017

With the exception of "Memento," I usually dislike the amnesia story arcs I've seen since they (at least the ones I've seen) tend to fall into the "a" and "d" categories, which oftentimes go hand-in-hand as a sort of a soft reboot to pad out the episode count. Seems to happen a lot in Asian dramas (animated and live action). But romance series often times suffer from what I consider a variation of this sort of relationship soft reboots (and is a reason modern romance stories annoy me). Sitcoms and dramas almost always have the "just friends" characters who are "meant for" each other. They eventually get together, the crowd cheers, then the writers don't know what to do with the characters, so they create some drama, the characters break up, eventually realize they're truly meant to be together, get back together, and, if there are more seasons, encounter more drama, break up again, etc.

ozoneocean at 11:09PM, Sept. 30, 2017

I always found it annoying. It's a funny old trope in sitcoms though. TV and movies get a lot of stuff like that dangerously wrong... The idea of knocking someone out cold as a kind way to silence them (rather than kill them or does because it's quicker than tying them up), is bullshit because it's impossible to control that; most likely you won't knock them out, you could kill them, or leave them with permanent brain damage. Knocking someone on the head to cure amnesia will probably do the same thing .

ozoneocean at 11:04PM, Sept. 30, 2017

@Usedbook, isn't that called "gas-lighting"?

Banes at 10:05AM, Sept. 30, 2017

I remember in the first season of 24 where a character was taken out of the action by getting amnesia for a couple episodes. It was jarring there!

Tantz_Aerine at 5:18AM, Sept. 30, 2017

Used Books: The way your story is constructed is with a niche for the amnesiac characters. Also, head games are a whole different ballgame. I don't think you've anything to apologize about ;)

usedbooks at 4:14AM, Sept. 30, 2017

Right, not write. -_-

usedbooks at 4:13AM, Sept. 30, 2017

The "amnesia" in my story is more head games. It's based on my personal experience. I have a very good memory. I remember events no one else does. But my sister has perfected the art of convincing me things never happened, and that I dreamed them. I'm also a vivid dreamer. So, if no one else remembers, logic follows that maybe she's write. Honestly, it may be that she enjoys torturing me.

usedbooks at 3:32AM, Sept. 30, 2017

*Mumbles a sheepish apology and walks away.*


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