Negotiating Memory

Central to what we must confront as fiction writers is how to navigate the narrative past.

It’s both a logistical consideration as well as an aesthetic one: When we are referencing an event that happened before the ‘now’ of the story, what authorial mechanisms do we use - flashbacks, section or chapter breaks, font changes?

The conventions are well worn, and I’m not certain that there’s a good answer that doesn’t draw attention to itself, which could then result in potentially pulling the reader out of the story. (I’m reminded of Faulkner’s wish that he could have published The Sound and the Fury with different font colors to denote each character’s inner thoughts. We are all better for the fact that Faulkner didn’t get his way.)

This past week, I watched the third season of HBO’s True Detective with much envy - the creative team was able to evoke specific periods of time with consistent use of clothing, hair styles, even the color palette. The actors of course did much of the heavy lifting - their body language, speech, their non-verbals all transmitted which time-frame we viewers were in. (And if you haven’t seen True Detective’s season 3, do yourself the favor of watching it right now.)

Anyway, I’m currently struggling with an effective and creative way to evoke 3 distinct timelines in my WIP, and I find myself using well-known techniques—section and chapter breaks—and at least right now I’m bored with those options. We’ll see where I land after the next round of revisions.