Proactive Interference...A really useful explanation for why it can be hard to keep a story straight...
I've been running into a funny problem while reflecting on the edits for my second Lucy Campion mystery (From the Charred Remains, out in April 2014!).
It's the same problem I encountered when talking to a book group tonight...
I'm having some trouble keeping the details of my stories straight.
Crazy, right? How can I not know my own stories? I spent YEARS writing them (at least A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.) But still, I have notes and charts and timelines and figures (yes, figures!) detailing subplots, tracking character motivations, etc. And yet, I'm still a bit confused sometimes. How is this possible?
So I raised the question of my faulty memory with my chief psychological consultant (literally my resident psychologist, a.k.a my alpha reader). "I wrote the darn thing!" I whined, er, lamented. "How can I not remember all these details? I shouldn't have to re-read my notes to know my own story. Do I just have the worst memory in the world?"
And, with a lift of his eyebrow and a stroke to his goatee, my cognitive psychologist replied, "Ah, well let me tell you about a little thing we in the field like to call PROACTIVE INTERFERENCE."
And here's what he explained:
"I'd imagine it's always harder for the writer to remember the details than it is for a reader. For the reader, there is one reality and it is laid out there on the page. The writer, however, has vividly imagined (and discarded) many realities. These early imaginings compete and interfere with the memories for the most recent version of the story. This proactive interference is a hallmark of human memory and, sadly, it is largely unavoidable. Be thankful that you took good notes in the first place!"
(See why I keep my alpha reader in my permanent employ? He helps me rationalize my disorderly thinking with a neat psychological construct!)
But this idea of proactive interference, and this notion of multiple imagined (and discarded) realities, really does resonate with me. I've found that even though I take notes as I write, I don't keep track of the scenes, characters events, etc. that get deleted or shuffled around. So I retain this memory of what I wrote, even though it's no longer in the manuscript, which is why I'm sometimes confused months later. I also wrote another unrelated novel in the interim, which probably doesn't help with my recall of the one currently being edited.
Perhaps I could do a better job of documenting the changes I make when I write (although, really, it's not like I EVER get rid of a draft!).
But, in a way, I sort of like the idea that underlies this confusion. Maybe it's part of the romantic image of writer as creator: the idea that one being can simultaneously hold multiple realities is strangely compelling.
Or maybe its just convenient to pull out the "proactive interference" defense. Dazzle my questioners with the multiple realities angle, and I can sidestep the missing details altogether.
But what do you think? Will that fly?
7/10/2013 02:46:30 pm
Works for me! "Proactive interference" sounds like an awesome excuse for forgetting. :D
8/4/2013 11:22:57 am
No problem discerning which is which. The blog is nonfiction and I do NOT put excerpts from my WIP in the blog. I write by topic, about the culture surrounding my real-life characters. Most recently, I wrote of white slavery and child-trafficking in the early-colonial years of New England, and a profile of a 17th-century physician. Blogging disciplines my writing because I have a responsibility to get it right for my recreational readers; I also believe my articles are having some effect on newspaper writers and history students. I'm working really hard to turn around the inaccuracy that Mary Dyer died "simply for being a Quaker," into the truth that Mary Dyer committed civil disobedience to bring attention to the tortures inflicted by New England theocracy. Check it out: http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com
That sounds great. I have to write up so much research in my day job I probably don't blog about my research as much as I should.
7/10/2013 11:29:51 pm
Multiple realities...sounds like a Star Trek episode! This rings true to me and it's nice to have a good excuse for my forgetfulness!
What you need is one reader who will only read the final version of the book, and let him/her field all your questions at book signings. Five years isn't too bad! I think from inception to publication, my book was about 15 years (although only a few of those were active writing years!)
4/27/2016 02:49:08 am
Proactive interference and retroactive interference are the two psychological terms related to memory. Its a funny article and it explains proactive interference in a good manner. Recently, I have read an article based on the same topic and it is in essay writing service USA.
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.