Welcome to another chapter annotation, where I discuss some of the behind the scenes work that went into writing THE MEMORY THIEF. As always, this assumes you’ve read the book already. Up this week is Chapter Ten, where Benji first sees memory bottles, but not before he is overcome by rage at school and on the bus.
This is a scene that I’d pictured early on in the drafting process, and it stayed more or less true to the way I wrote it the first time. I wanted memories to alter who you were. It’s a concept I’ve always believed, and I wanted it to come out through the story. (Related to this, I also believe our memories of a single event can be different due to the way we each perceive that event individually. This isn’t something that really fits with the world of the Memory Thief, where memories are basically recordings of what we experience. Then again, it might also be an area I could explore more.)
One tricky thing to pull off in this chapter was to show what’s going on with Benji in a way that makes sense and doesn’t alienate the reader. A first person point of view brings a lot of things to the table. It lets you get inside the narrator’s head and get to know him in a way that’s much more difficult with third person. But on the other hand, you can’t just tell the reader what’s up, and that can get confusing.
The example I always think of when I discuss this is Great Gatsby, where the narrator is extremely unreliable. He’s in love with a girl in the story, and so he presents her as being far more charming and wonderful than she is. Then at the end of the book, he sees her for what she is, and her character seems to shift. Not because she’s changed, but because the narrator’s perception of her has changed.
In this chapter, with Benji having taken in so many angry memories, it warps him. I wanted to have some of that bleed through, but this is Middle Grade, and so I needed to be careful with how I did it. Part of me wanted to have it go on longer, but in the end I just thought that would be too much. I don’t want to confuse my readers, so I thought if I kept it tight within a single chapter, it would still make sense to everyone. It was fun writing an angry Benji scene, though. One where he had no patience for anyone or anything. My characters aren’t typically like that.
Maybe in the end I thought it was a bigger deal than it was. No one’s commented that they were confused by it in the slightest, and no one’s commented on how much they liked the scene. You never know.