How would you write a good amnesia opening?

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Dacadey
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Sat Aug 25, 2018 8:54 am Post

I'm in the process of writing a book now and I'm thinking about the beginning, where there are two possible options:

1) A character who has amnesia (well, maybe not the specific illness, but you know what I mean :mrgreen: ) gets thrown into the world where things start happening
2) A character who is already a part of the world start experiencing the things happening

I want to go the amnesia way. And it might be a weird question, but how would you write the amnesia route so that it doesn't turn into endless exposition? like:

"What is that?" he asked.
"That is bla-bla-bla (3 paragraphs)", she replied. "Let's go there".
They headed that way.
"What is that place where we are going?" he asked again.
"That is bla bla bla (3 more paragraphs)"

and so on

I'm finding it a bit hard to write because the main character would naturally have a ton of questions to ask, but answering them all the time with other characters feels a bit boring.

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lunk
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Sat Aug 25, 2018 11:31 am Post

I know it’s a movie, but check out the opening 10-15 minutes of "The Bourne identity"
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xiamenese
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Sat Aug 25, 2018 11:50 am Post

Or, for a really good example of the second, read Margery Allingham's Traitor's Purse.

:)

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gr
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Sat Aug 25, 2018 12:38 pm Post

Decadey, I would think about other techniques at your disposal for representing the character's lapses. Having the character ask (and have answered) questions is only one way. For example, in reality, when people are disoriented or lose track of what is going on, they often precisely DON'T ask questions -- because they recognize that they should know the thing they have lost track of (like where they are or where they are going). Often this is a source of embarassment to them, or depending on the kind of circumstance your character is in, might make them fearful or suspiciously cautious. Hanging back with the idea that they will be able to figure it out is then a typical behavior. So, this gives you a less verbal thing to represent in your scene: letting the reader "see" that the character is confused again, wants to ask the question perhaps, but is hiding their mental failing, hoping to pick up what they need from the goings-on around them.

Another variation you can play with is varying reactions of others. Are they just going to answer the same question over and over and in the same way? No. The other(s) already know(s) or would quickly surmise that answering the question is unhelpful -- the character can't hold onto it. So, the response from an other might often be to redirect rather than give a straight answer. Suppose that the character's question about where they are going naturally occasions some hesitancy -- they slacken their pace. Then it would be natural for the character's interlocutor often to be focussed more on moving them along, not answering the question, and so what they would say to the one would reflect this instead.

In fact, once the reader is keyed into the character's problem, just having the character stop short and be moved along by the other(s) would register (completely non-verbally) as another forgetting moment. Or again maybe the others just keep moving and ignore the one, since it has all happened before and they know the character will fall in line again, because there is nothing else for the amnesiac to do in that circumstance.

So, to me the key is thinking of all the different ways you can represent this fact of the situation and choosing a mix of these. It will also help if during this scene you have something else that the reader will be making progress on -- getting their own bearings, gaining some info about the situation or the characters they are dealing with. That way the progress of the scene is actual progress and not just reiteration (albeit varietal) of a single idea.

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auxbuss
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Sun Aug 26, 2018 2:10 pm Post

Frances Hardinge's, Cuckoo Sing starts with a nice example of your first (and tackles the point GR makes in the final para).

You might get some ideas from the film, Memento.
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