Welcome to another behind-the-scenes look at The Memory Thief. We’re up to chapter nine, and it’s another chapter that actually didn’t change a whole lot between the first draft and the final version. I thought about just skipping over the chapter because of this, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I think the chapter didn’t change.
For those of you who don’t feel like actually getting out the book and rereading the chapter, I’ll remind you: it’s where Benji steals his parents’ memories of the reasons for being mad at each other.
It’s interesting to me: when I started writing the book, I had no intent to explore family relations as a sub plot. It wasn’t like I started out thinking, “Benji is the son of parents who fight a lot.” I didn’t know who Benji was. Instead, I knew I wanted Benji to be at the fair and to go off on his own, where he’d eventually meet Louis. I needed a reason for him to want to go off by himself. The one that I ended up going with was that his parents were fighting, and he wanted to escape it.
I could have gone with many others, however. Maybe his parents were just the type of people who’d let him wander the fair on his own. Perhaps he got separated from his parents in the middle of a crowd. He could have been there with his friends as part of a group. Any one of those reasons would have been perfectly acceptable, but I went with arguing parents. Maybe it’s because it’s something I’d had experience with. I didn’t have a definite reason for doing it.
But because I chose that, it established a few things about Benji. First, he had parents who didn’t get along, and second, he disliked it enough that he wanted to escape it.
Once those items were set, then it only made sense that as soon as he had the ability to steal memories, he’d use it to try and “fix” his parents. There was no avoiding that choice, as an author. It’s a thread I just kept following to see where it ended. In a middle draft, Louis appeared in Benji’s Dad’s Memory Library, come to warn Benji against stealing those memories. But even with that warning, Benji still did it. At that point, I just knew that’s what Benji would do.
Characters define themselves by their actions and thoughts. Early on in a story, when we don’t know them, they’re able to do just about anything, and the audience won’t question it. They’re getting to know the character. But once that character is established, then the options grow more limited. You can force them to act a certain way, of course. As an author, you can write anything. But the audience won’t believe it unless you set it up properly. In the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout could suddenly go all Child’s Play on everyone, killing everyone in the scene. But people wouldn’t buy the change in her character.
This is one of the main reasons I end up ditching so many of my plot outlines about a third into the book. I made the outline before I really knew the character, and I’ll have had them make a big choice that they end up not wanting to make. At that point, I either need to go back and rewrite their character to make it work, or I need to have them change their decision. I typically have them change their decision. I know and like them by that point. Who am I to force them to do something they don’t want to do?
Anyway. I just found it interesting that one seemingly simple choice right at the beginning of a draft could end up having such big implications later on in the novel. The whole book ended up having family relations play a big part. In fact, because I’d started with that as the main conflict, I decided to end with that being the final conflict to get resolved. (More or less.) It helps bring closure to the story.
That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!