Sunday, April 12, 2009


Don't you love showers? They're not just convenient means of waking up and getting oneself clean. They're also the source of endless inspiration, the place where your thoughts come into focus and your plots take form.

Many a story has been hatched in the shower.

Can you believe that once upon a time I hated showers?

More than that. I dreaded them. I shook in panic at the mere thought of taking one, and baths were not an alternative at that time. We only had a small half-bath in our efficiency, my mother and I, and that was it.

Obviously, I got over it. How? I don't know. It was a long time ago. Somewhere along the line, I discovered the pleasure and luxury of showers. The delight provided by the sensory isolation of the sound of running water, the soothing effect of hot steam, and the knowledge that no one expects you to hear anything for at least ten minutes.

When you're a mother, that's a lot.

And so I forgot the absolute fear and loathing of showers I once had.

What brought it back to mind is the realization that my elderly mother detests being cold, and the constant noise and irritation of running water, and therefore she will not take a shower. It's her old-age fussiness that brought back memories of my own childhood aversions.

What else have I forgotten?

I read several sci-fi novels recently where memory, either too-acute, or lost, is a central element of the plot. Whether regained, impossible to erase, or forever gone, memory is such an essential part of what makes us, that we don't even give it a thought.

Let's not even ponder memory as personal history: that's merely the simplest aspect of it.

Memory makes and remakes us constantly. Memory and recall. Recall and memory. Our ability to recall long-term memories and short-term memories: events that happened a long time ago, or just moments past. Our ability to arrange the memories into sequences, and more than that: into meaningful sequences, related to other memories and events, that are also arranged into meaningful sequences, themselves easily related...

That's how our mind works. A spiderweb of connections: ideas, deductions, recalls, memories, connections. All of these are made up of words, images, sensory information, emotions, rational thought processes.

Eliminate one, and you have a big gap that nothing can bridge. Forever and ever, you will go around it, but never over or across. That place is simply lost.

Whether you're considering the actual human mind, or a fictional story-world, this web is there: an infinite network of connections that you can never know fully, but you're aware it's there. And when you need it, you can dip into it. The same gaps that loss of memory cause in your mind can be created by lack of foresight in a fictional story-world, with the same result: an empty space, devoid of information.

Even if you have no gaps, in the case of a fictional story-world, you mustn't tell it all, or put every detail of it into your story, any more that you would recall every memory at every moment of your actual life. But as the writer, you must be aware of all the possible details of your story-world, as you are aware of your own self. You must know your story-world down to the molecular level, down to every sensory input. Know the colors and the scents, and the flavors of your imaginary places, and the way the people think there. So that the logic of your story is always that of your story, even if it's not necessarily quite realistic.

Because, hey, some days, we just don't want reality. We want the reality of the story, not the one outside our door.


Mary Ricksen said...

Very interesting post. I used to be terrified of the dark and had nite terrors. It was awful but now when I think back on it, I have no idea what frightened me. But I thank God that growing up helps us to resolve those types of issues.

SFWriterMasha said...

I had those, too, but they pursued me long into my adult years. I just blame them on my overactive imagination, and I think writing helped. Facing the issues is the only way, hiding from them is definitely not the solution. You can't escape the coming nighttime, can you?

Hywela Lyn said...

You're so right about facing the issues one fears, Masha, as the heroine of my novel Starquest found (after she'd regained the missing remnant of her memory)

I used to be really afraid of lifts. (Perhaps from reading too much Ray Bradbury?) I would walk up endless flights of stairs rather than take a lift (I even used the fire escape when I was staying at the top of a tower block in London on a training course.) However about three years ago I was waiting for an operation after a bad horse riding accident and could hardly walk to my upstairs office at work so I had no option but to use the lift. The first couple of times were an absolute nightmare - but I got used to it, eventually!

SFWriterMasha said...

Hywela, I bet that experience has, or will, make it into one of your stories! At the very least the fear and the victory!

Linda Poitevin said...

I am so with you on sometimes wanting the reality of your story vs. the one outside your door! A little escapism is good for one's soul... :)

Skhye said...

Hi, Masha! I trust you had a wonderful Easter!!! It's good to see someone discussing memory/the mind/world-building. I don't know how many people tell me they created something new--without researching or pulling from the dark recesses of their mind. ;) What always jogs my files inside my skull is walking for an hour or riding the elliptical. It's amazing how burning off the day's stress can lead to free time for the thoughts to whirl!

You know, I can't convince people how researching is the act of putting info into your mind either..., e.i. feeding the database. :)

Keena Kincaid said...

Interesting post, and definitely something worth thinking about. I like the spider web imagery, and as I, too, watch my parents get older and fussier, I'm beginning to see the gaps appear in their memories. So far they can pause and fill them in. But in that moment of forgetfulness, I can see their frustration and fear.

SFWriterMasha said...


Exactly! Feeding! And Linda, the research part is also a form of escape, at least for the writer. While we dig for detail, we get lost in the unknowns of our own worlds. Later will come the hard work, the edits, the polishing, but the research part, that's pure discovery!

SFWriterMasha said...


In a way, that's what culture shock feels like: you have no memories that help you relate to the world around you. People have small details they share, and a newcomer draws a blank that tags him as an outsider every single time.

When you expect it, you make yourself learn. But when the details begin to slip away into fog, and the database fails, that's something else.