The Amnesia Effect

I have the worst memory ever. Seriously. I’m bad with names, faces, and if I don’t put an event onto my calendar immediately there’s a good chance I’ll be home watching Netflix when I get your “Where are you?” text. That said, I am pretty obsessed with memories. (The ones I remember, at least.) I love taking photos, keeping movie tickets, that sort of stuff. (Wow, just realized I’m still 13-year-old Adam. I’m okay with this.) The recent trailer for The Maze Runner film (crazy good, right?) got me thinking about one of my favorite devices in fiction: The Amnesia Effect.

Who doesn’t love a good do-over? (Spoiler: Tons of characters, actually.) If there’s ever a good reason to absolutely disorient your reader/viewer, it should be because the protagonist has absolutely zero clue what’s going on, sometimes not even their own name. So I wanted to dig into the (altered, damaged, etc.) minds of some of my favorite amnesiacs.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

What’s forgotten? Our hero in this action-packed trilogy is Thomas and the only bit of history he remembers is his name.
Why it works: Thomas, along with a group of other teenage boys, has a blank slate in a village they call The Glade. The answers to who wiped their memories exist in this maze that not only shifts every night, but is inhabited by terrifying creatures known as Grievers. The trilogy is a compelling puzzle and you get this sense that Thomas may be better off not solving it entirely. Good stuff!

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

What’s forgotten? Naomi has forgotten the past four years of her life after hitting her head on some steps.
Why it works: I’m sure plenty of people would love to forget high school, but not like this. Imagine having all your current relationships wound back to where they were four years ago, if they even existed back then. That’s what Naomi is suffering through and her frustration throughout the novel hits the reader hard. The accident is a terrible thing—duh, Adam—but it’s also a perfect opportunity for second chances at past missteps. Silver linings, guys, silver linings!

False Memory by Dan Krokos

What’s forgotten? Much like Thomas from The Maze Runner, Miranda doesn’t know who she is with the added bonus of not knowing she has the power to incite mass panic. Until she accidentally uses it.
Why it works: In this award-winning series, Miranda North is a member in a quartet of teenage amnesiacs trained to be secret weapons. When reading the first book I was constantly torn as to who to trust because Miranda is just in such a vulnerable position for easy manipulation. And the stakes are high because, again, she sort of has this awesome superpower that can bring armies down to their knees. And that twist at the end, ah! Unforgettable.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (screenplay) by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindWhat’s forgotten? Clementine has forgotten her boyfriend, main character Joel, with a memory erasure procedure.
Why it works: First off, not a book, I know, I know, but come on, this movie is glorious. When I was in the early stages of my book, I pitched it to a coworker and he said, “Oh, like Eternal Sunshine?” And I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I watched it and my life has been 10x better ever since. Pretty sure 99% of the people who have had their hearts broken wished – at least for a little bit – they could just erase the heartbreaker from memory. (Hell, I bet you wish you could even remove them from existence, but that’s a whole other extreme.) This movie speaks to that part of us while also showing how those experiences make us who we are today. Except not in a cheesy way. In an awesome way.

What are some of your favorite books and films that make good use of The Amnesia Effect?


13 Responses to The Amnesia Effect

  1. Gwen Cole Jul 30 2014 at 7:44 am #

    The Maze Runner looks so good! And another favorite movie of mine is The Bourne Identity! Matt Damon. <3

    • Adam Silvera Jul 30 2014 at 9:31 am #

      I totally have to rewatch The Bourne Identity! It’s been years.

  2. Anita Jul 30 2014 at 8:02 am #

    Was just watching The Vow the other day on TV. MC couldn’t even remember she was married to Channing Tatum. *the horror*
    And there’s also the “classic” Fifty First Dates with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler.
    Great post 🙂

    • Adam Silvera Jul 30 2014 at 9:34 am #

      This is how bad my memory is: I was about to tell you I have never seen The Vow and right before I could press POST COMMENT I remembered seeing it with my roommate on opening day – Valentine’s Day. And I really enjoyed it, even though there’s no way a brain injury is forcing me to forget Channing Tatum.

  3. Marc Vun Kannon Jul 30 2014 at 8:50 am #

    False Memory sounds good to me.
    There’s a great novel called Mirror Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold, in which one of the MCs is put in cryo-stasis and wakes up with amnesia, leaving him in considerable danger until the expected memory cascade brings him back to himself. Later in the series there’s a book called Memory, in which a memory chip goes haywire, flooding a character’s mind with random memories from his career, leaving him with and underexersized capacity to remember for himself when the chip is removed.
    Similarly there’s the whole Amber series, in which Corwin of Amber wakes up with Amnesia and spends a good part of the book trying to figure out who tried to kill him and why, in a conspiracy spanning multiple universes.
    By far the most painful is the series finale to the TV series Chuck, where the female lead’s memories of all the character growth she’d experienced over 5 years was erased by technological means, with no clear resolution at the end of the story. (Not only did I write a fanfiction to fix that, I’m rewriting the last three seasons of the show.)
    I also have an unpublished novel called Ghostkiller, where the hero has forgotten the first 300+ years of his life, which contain the key to how the world got broken and how to fix it. Does that count? (If I can ever figure out how to describe it for a query I’ll try to get it published somewhere.)

    • Adam Silvera Jul 30 2014 at 9:41 am #

      FALSE MEMORY is very good! The final book in the trilogy comes out in August so you’d be catching up just in time if you start now. And these are great recommendations, so thanks so much! Best of luck to you and Ghostkiller. Check out the many querying resources we have here at PubCrawl to help you out, Marc.

      • Marc Vun Kannon Jul 30 2014 at 9:54 am #

        Oh, I have, I assure you. My stories just don’t condense to one paragraph. I’ve pretty much given up hope of getting published by any company that requires synopses. My current publisher knows better than to ask, she just shakes her head and wonders where I get my ideas.

  4. JoSVolpe Jul 30 2014 at 10:28 am #

    I know another awesome book that deals with memory…..!! 😉

  5. Sandy Jul 30 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    I love White Cat by Holly Black, the MC Cassel doesn’t even know at first that he has missing memories and has to figure out what he’s forgotten and why his memories are being messed up.

  6. elena Jul 30 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I LIKE THIS POST. My fav is probably Memento!!!!

  7. Brooke Jul 30 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    False Memory is one of my favorite series! I can’t wait for the final one! I will have to check the others out, I haven’t read them!

  8. Gabriele Jul 30 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    I want to suggest We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. I took the synopsis from Amazon:

    “Cadence Sinclair Easton comes from an old-money family, headed by a patriarch who owns a private island off of Cape Cod. Each summer, the extended family gathers at the various houses on the island, and Cadence, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and friend Gat (the four “Liars”), have been inseparable since age eight. During their fifteenth summer however, Cadence suffers a mysterious accident. She spends the next two years—and the course of the book—in a haze of amnesia, debilitating migraines, and painkillers, trying to piece together just what happened.”

    THERE ARE SO MANY TWISTS. Oh my goodness. You’re guessing right until the end.

  9. Rachel Aug 8 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is brilliant! I loved this book and Gabrielle Zevin is a hugely talented writer!

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