Welcome to another chapter annotation for THE MEMORY THIEF. This week, we’re up to chapter five. As a reminder, these are really intended for people who have already read the book and want to find out more about the process I went through to write it. In other words, plenty of potential for spoilers.
I mentioned in an earlier annotation how I’d turned Chris into Kelly, eliminating Benji’s best friend, and giving him a twin sister, instead. (I promoted his younger sister in the first draft, Kelly, to full twin status.) This chapter really highlights the benefits of that earlier decision.
In the first draft, Benji goes home after he and Chris meet Genevieve for the first time. He tells his little sister, Kelly, some bedtime stories when she can’t fall asleep. The next day, he heads into school and discovers Chris has forgotten who he is, so he goes to Genevieve and confronts her in a scene that plays out mostly as it does now.
On the surface, that doesn’t sound like too huge of a switch, but when you look at the impact it has on Benji, it becomes clear how important it was. For one thing, having Kelly be right there with him at home (in the revision) means that he has no escape from the problem of Genevieve. In the original draft, Chris makes the call to go back to Genevieve on his own. Benji shows up at school the next day and finds out about it in class. It’s upsetting, but sudden.
In the revision, he’s stuck with the problem. Kelly’s there, in his house, deciding what to do. She comes to his room at night, letting him know she’s going. He talks her out of it, but then she goes anyway, and so he feels personally guilty that he didn’t try harder. Better yet, he wakes up and sees she’s missing. He has the whole morning to dwell on the problem and stew in it. He doesn’t know where she is or what happened, so when he gets to school and finds her, he’s relieved.
Only to find out she’s forgotten he exists. It’s one thing to have your best friend forget you or be mean to you at school, but to have your own twin do it? I think that raised the stakes in many different ways, and I loved the change. Through this process, a series of small changes can really snowball, so that by the end of a revision process you have an entirely different book.
Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll start off thinking of the book as a riff on a movie. One novel, TARNHELM, was almost a straight up YA adaptation of The Maltese Falcon for the first draft. That’s where it started, but as I wrote it and revised it, the changes kept stacking one on top of another, until by the end it was drastically different. (If only it would get published one day, so you could see!)
I always have to remind myself that, at least for the way I write) the first draft of a book (or even just the premise of the book to begin with) is only the first step on a path that leads me to the final draft, which might end up somewhere very different than I first thought. For me, that’s one of the main reasons I write. To explore that path and find out where it ends up.