Thursday, October 18, 2012

Amnesia - Why we love it or hate it?

So earlier this week Molly talked about the Thomas novel which features an amnesia plot. Now the Amnesia plot in romance is a staple. I want to say it was almost like the “first trope”. The Adam and Eve of romance tropes.

I can tell you my first category book I ever wrote… amnesia. It’s like a rite of passage. Somewhere deep in our romance psyche we all have that burning amnesia story in us. I have actually planned for the 4th book in my Tyler Group series to be an amnesia story. Yikes!

Why are they problematic? Because they’ve been done to death. Because Soap Opera’s abused them horribly. Because getting hit on the head does not typically equal a total loss in memory. And getting hit on the head again – does not typically bring it back. Although certainly head trauma can equate to memory loss. As can emotional and psychological trauma.

As I’ve documented this year I’ve fallen back in love with 1995 Lois and Clark. In the typical horrifically plotted episodes we have Clark losing his memory after trying to destroy an asteroid. Then Lois losing her memory after hitting her head on a fire hydrant. Memory loss all over the place.

So why do we love it? Why does it work?

In the case of Lois and Clark – and we’ll take Lois (because in romancelandia it usually is the woman who suffers from the condition) - it’s a nice reset. We have two lovers, they are about to get married. They’ve worked out all their emotional issues but we’ve got 4 more episodes we have to produce. Bam! Amnesia – and now she doesn’t remember that she loves Clark and instead thinks she loves Lex Luther. Wonderful new conflict all created by a bonk to the head.

In romance though how is it used? Same scenario where the husband suddenly has to win back his wife? Or in Thomas’s case she used it to basically allow for a reset of a horrible relationship. So the heroine could forget everything the hero did to her and start over.

How am I using it? Well, someone is killed. She has blood on her hands. Only she doesn’t remember anything. Yep – totally cliché. See movie Dead Again with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.

So it has to be deeper. There has to be another reason.

Remember the moving Regarding Henry with Harrison Ford. In his case it was a bullet to the brain. And I remember the critics saying that he starts out as a jerk and the only thing that reforms him is that he got shot and became someone else. Meaning he never had to work to reform himself. He never had to grow.

In my case beyond the implications of the murder my hero is professional lie detector. A masterful psychiatrist who can use visual clues to determine if someone is potentially lying. So what heroine can I give this guy that he can’t possibly possibly read? She’s either got to be a sociopath (talk about a taboo in romance – sociopath heroine!) Or… she has to be a completely blank slate. A person he can’t read, because beyond her most recent memories there is nothing to read.

Now will I get it right? Probably not. Because pulling off the mother of all tropes – Amnesia – it’s just not easy.

But I’m a romance novelist. I have to try damn it!


Molly O'Keefe said...

Ah! I agree it's a tricky trope and one misstep and it becomes trite - I think the more you can tie it to character and not just conflict - the more interesting. Because often the character with the amnesia just becomes the amnesia and that's all. I get there's got to be some bed rest but after that it's all "fogs lifting" metaphors.

I'm excited for your efforts - Steph. You're tackling the tropes too, aren't you!!!??

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yes - my book out in March is my "Ode to the Secret Baby." Book!

Karen Whiddon said...

Oooh! I did the amnesia thing too, in one of my earliest books (Precious Gems for Kensington) Only I had the hero have the amnesia. It was a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Good luck! Because honestly, when I find out a book is an amnesia book I roll my eyes and shelve it because I've never read one I liked (yep I tried twice then gave up). One of my new authors wrote an amnesia story that I didn't know was an amnesia story until I started reading it. Needless to say I shelved it. I wasn't ready to give it a chance.

I felt the same way about Twin stories too. Until I read Karina Bliss' Stand-in Wife. That book was excellent and I loved how she pulled it off! The humor was excellent, plus the heroine standing in for her twin sister was out in the open with the hero and I think that also helped the story - it wasn't a secret.

Now secret baby stories - I've never had an issue reading those.


Maureen McGowan said...

I think amnesia works because losing your memory is terrifying. But at the same time, starting over, as an adult is kind of enticing on bad days.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Marcie - I know I'm the same with certain tropes. But you never when that one book will do it right.

And Maureen you're right. What I wouldn't give for a little amnesia on some days!

Anonymous said...

Exactly - so if an author I like does a trope I don't like - I would be more likely to try that book because of the faith in the author.


Eileen said...

I personally am a sucker for secret baby books. Love 'em. Also anything where someone finds old letters or a diary. I eat that stuff up with a spoon!

Anonymous said...

Amnesia is really tricky, excited to read how you tackle it, Steph.

But I can't remember an amnesia book where I thought it really added to the story in a meaningful way

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