Memory of a Lifetime: What It Means for Storytelling

SA-sigA few days ago, I saw this awesome post on Tumblr. It was so simple and yet so obvious. For years I’ve heard older adults telling me how short life is, and I just had to disagree. Life is ridiculously long. In fact, I feel like I’ve already lived my hundred years. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any regrets. Except maybe that I didn’t get another hundred years to do even more. (Although I also must disagree with the diagram above; I do not remember the first five years of my life at all. I’d say a more accurate picture would stretch out the 6-21 years.) I thought maybe the major reason their lives seemed so short is because they’ve had to give up their goals to raise children, which is equally plausible. But this Tumblr post answered my question and opened my eyes: as we get older, we tend to have less new experiences. Old experiences or repetitions of what we’ve already done are not new memories. Every time we do something like take a shower, we replace our memory of the last time we took a shower. So it seems like we’ve only ever taken one shower! Think about it, do you feel like you’ve taken thousands of showers in your life? Probably not. You’d be so sick of the shower you’d never bathe again!

So what does this mean for storytelling? Does this have anything to do with why people grasp and remember certain scenes or stories and easily forget others? I believe this is the counterargument to “formula” stories. The closer a story is to something we’ve already read or seen, the more likely it is to be forgotten! Sad, isn’t it? Of course we’re still free to build on other things that we have seen or heard. That’s what storytelling is all about! But unless we change things and vary our story, it’s very likely much of what has or can be duplicated will be quickly replaced by another memory. The most practical application is that for every two (or more) scenes that are too similar you can just nix one since no one will even remember it!

This is a lot to take in. I’m still digesting it. But I’m going to consider it when writing. Basically, go for something that isn’t easily duplicated. We see this in mysteries all the time. How many mysteries can you recall? Or romances? Probably not many because so many of them have been done and redone. But we remember things like Titanic, Avatar, and The Sixth Sense, because they’re so unique that no one can quite replicate them without completely replacing them in the memory of those who have read or seen them. Even if they did, it would be so obvious that people would respond negatively and discard it for being a copycat.

I’ve never been fond of formula stories, and now this strengthens my feelings against them even more. But just because they’re likely to be forgotten, does that make them bad? No. Many readers, in fact, get a lot of joy out of reading them, even if it’s temporary and they quickly replace it with another book or movie. I guess that’s why the classics will always remain classics, and why it’s become increasingly more difficult to create something that can stand out and be remembered far beyond our lifetimes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

Which stories are you least likely to forget?

-The Story Addict

About Story Addict

I am a story enthusiast (if you couldn't tell). Also a writer. I write teen thrillers. And a digital illustrator. I like to draw characters in action. My author's site is and my illustrator's site is You can find me on Twitter as @markedforpower and on Tumblr at Other things I adore: Cultural diversity. Martial arts. Graphic design. French and Japanese languages. Music! Lots of it, all the time! And dessert (yum!).
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8 Responses to Memory of a Lifetime: What It Means for Storytelling

  1. Nicole L. Bates says:

    This is really interesting. As it relates to stories I’d have to say the books that I feel have had the most impact on me thus far are books I read in middle school and early high school. I’ve read thousands of books since then, and have loved many of them, but perhaps because those earlier stories were such fresh ideas presented to an impressionable mind, with a lot less distractions, I’m sure I won’t ever forget them.

    • Story Addict says:

      That’s another great point. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I can see how true that is. Things that I read now pass me by very quickly, whereas what I read during the earlier time block seems to have a more lasting impression on me. Thanks for the thoughts, Nicole!

  2. Sudipto Roy says:

    Wow! so neatly put..:) loved the read! although i remember my first few years as well unlike u..

  3. Well thought out. Good points, although as soon as something unique is produced then everyone wants to try to duplicate it. Even though sometimes it wasn’t the idea that was super successful as much as it was its uniqueness.

  4. Jay Finn says:

    Be it a quick release of repetitious joy, or a joy that last a lifetime, stories are the gift that keep on giving. Good post.

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