It is very hard for me to ask this without an overwhelming amount of information on how the plot goes, so this is just a warning of what's ahead...

I am writing a fictional story which begins with an amnesiac waking up by a giant tree, wounded. A nearby lady finds him and takes him in to her residence. It is made known to him that the lady has a stepdaughter. He runs away minutes after getting treatment, feeling he's become a burden for them.

Sometime after, the lady goes to another village for an appointment. The village members, expecting her to have come back hours ago, go out to the forest and search for her. They find the amnesiac unconscious by another tree, deep in the forest and bring him back to village. When the stepdaughter arrives back, she finds that her father and other village members found a letter, seemingly written by the lady. The letter, addressed to the stepdaughter and her husband, warns them of a man (named T for this question) that died a few years ago. Of course, that could not be possible. T was an outcast who did not get along with the members of the village, but found a place in the hearts of the lady, stepdaughter and her father. The amnesiac does not know about T's history in this village.

Afterwards, the stepdaughter waits for the amnesiac to wake up so she can question him about what he saw in the forest before losing conscience. All of a sudden, an agonizing scream overpowers their ears, and it becomes certain that the source of this bewildering sound is just by the window of the room he was resting in. They go outside, only to find the lady's guts and blood, sprawled all over her corpse. Because of that scream, the other residents of the residence gather around the corpse. Some background characters quietly ask each other, whether lady's warning about T was real.

The amnesiac soon gets a headache, due to hearing a very familiar name. He then gets hallucinations about a snowy terrain which is associated to the man named T.

Now, is this perhaps too early for an amnesiac? Does this reveal too much about the plot in the first chapter?

I am mainly worried about the lack of effect this kind of character development will have on whoever will read this fiction. This story also uses two POV's that switch frequently throughout the first chapter etc. One belongs to the amnesiac, other to the stepdaughter.

This is also my first time writing in first person view while being an amnesiac, so I am not entirely strong with this knowledge, other than recurring, cropped visions that are mostly unclear until a certain point in time when the individual regains memory.

I'd really like to hear some of your advice on how I can 'sell' the protagonist to others, while he has no background and because I don't want to rush the return of his childhood memories, or any memories at all that help him find out who he is.

6 Answers 6


Switching between the POV of two characters rapidly within a chapter I think would be unwise, it could be very confusing for the reader to try to establish who they are reading from the POV of if it switches so rapidly.

If there is exposition required whilst the amnesiac is unconscious, you could always have it so that he discovers these things whilst awake after the fact. This may add to the suspense of the story, that both the reader and the character are experiencing revelations at the same time, as opposed to the reader learning things via the stepdaughter and the main character learning them later.

If you would like the stepdaughter to be a short-term POV character, introducing her as one in the prologue would not be unheard of. Her story could even start later than when the main character's story begins (such as her starting off finding the man and nursing him back to health), so long as the overlapping parts when he meets her later are made obvious so that the reader doesn't get confused.

Having the main character as an amnesiac is fine. This allows the reader and character to go through the same journey of discovery, as there is no exposition of the main character required from the start (other than the fact that he doesn't know anything).

His character can be built as the book progresses, though there will need to be at least another character that is established in order to give the reader someone to empathize with, rather than them only having an unknown person of unknown origins. That is a difficult person to root for without anything tethering them to emotion and humanity.

As for the return of memories, having them gradually come back is probably a good way of going. This will increase the tension as both the character and the reader are unsure of when memories will return or what will be learned.

Having the first memory return at the beginning of the first chapter will not be too early, however if you set the precedent that at least some partial memories are returned so soon, you will need to continue to allow memories to come back at a similar rate, such as a memory or two every couple of chapters.

It will seem a little odd if he gets a memory back so soon after losing it, and then no others return until halfway through the book. The recovery will need to be consistent so that the reader doesn't feel cheated. These can even just be mentioned offhandedly, such as if a week goes by and he mentions that he has remembered snippets of a beach, and a face, and maybe that he likes to ride motorcycles.

However, simply returning memories as and when they are needed will be a little bit Deus Ex Machina. Having unrelated memories and ones that make no sense at first until later revelations connect them would be better.

  • I really like the comment about readers feeling cheated.
    – D. Tunus
    Jan 13, 2016 at 10:13

Amnesiacs usually never regain their memories if memory loss is caused by physical trauma (getting hit in the head by a tree) or drug use (e.g., surgical amnesia). The only way memories are occasionally regained in real life is when painful memories that have been blocked from consciousness as a means of psychological protection are somehow dealt with, usually through intensive therapy. In these cases, a person is blocking specific memories only. They would not remember being held at gunpoint or seeing a woman get run over by a semi, but they would still remember non-painful things like having gone to the grocery store or having knitted a sweater vest, even though the events happened on the same day.

It is a trope to have a story where an amnesiac recovers their memory as a means of revealing plot. I encourage you not to use it. Consider instead turning the "amnesiac" is a liar. That might make your plot more interesting.

  • Amnesiac is a liar? Please emphasize.
    – D. Tunus
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:32
  • @D.Tanya That he is lying about not remembering anything.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:33
  • I understand where you are coming from in this case, however the ideal plot would have been that he really does not remember. If he was lying, he'd find no reason to stay in the village where I'd like the story to happen.
    – D. Tunus
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:36
  • @D.Tanya Maybe you can think of a way to reveal the plot without him regaining his memory at all.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 7, 2016 at 18:35
  • Retrograde amnesia is the term when one may make new memories, but a neurological insult has occurred that impairs remembrance of a time prior to the insult. I'll explain in an answer.
    – Stu W
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:51

"What the protagonist doesn't know" is an obstacle. Each obstacle should be overcome in order to advance the plot.

You may have to plot out your entire story and work backwards, seeing where each obstacle should be removed for maximum effect.

Heroes Reborn just did this in its recent 10-episode run. Noah Bennett appears in the first episode at a summit of powered and non-powered humans, and there's a terrible explosion. Thousands die, including his daughter Claire.

A year later, a guy comes to Noah claiming Noah's memory was erased, and that he needs Noah's help. In each episode, Noah finds a different person who tells him a little more of the story as he traces farther back to figure out what happened.

Each reveal tells Noah and the audience more about what occurred and why it might have been covered up (which, it turned out, was a good thing).


Retrograde amnesia is the term when one has a neurological insult and can't remember a certain period of time prior to the insult. However, one can remember distant memories.

The type of memory loss you describe is either confabulation (non-truths, whether beknownst or not) or psychotic disavowal. In the schizophrenic patient, the past can be altered, suppressed, or recreated to fit into a delusional scheme. The truth can be a moving target with a blind eye. Recovery with medication has an unpredictable effect on prior memories. "Truth" may be experienced or remembered as a dream or as the way it happened to someone else (depersonalization and derealization).

Writing your protagonist as a psychotic is an interesting proposition but would take a ton of research or a psychiatrist as a friend. Good luck!


Good storylines are about overcoming challenges, not exposition. Amnesia as a plot device tends to be trite and overdone, however, that does not mean it can't be used effectively. The recent US TV show Blind spot uses the idea of a "drug" that washes away all of a person's memories except for flash bits to good effect.

Realistically in a longer story, it is ultra cliche if the person remembers the information "just in time" or "just as clues", triggers the same panic/pain reaction, or that constantly saves the day, provides a new skill, etc. What we're looking for as readers is a variety of timings, reactions, and effects. For example, if sometimes your "amnesiac" remembers things too late and suffers guilt, but other times gets flashes that help, yay! but even then keep the "remembering" exposition to a minimum.

Maybe every time they try to remember some banished item, they get that migraine, or someone else to use the "edges" that almost trigger a headache, etc. fairly early on, we as readers want our protagonist or story to overcome the blockers. But if any obtained information has a predictable result, that's boring.


For the reader, a person with amnesia caused by a brain injury suddenly regaining full awareness can seem like a deus-ex-machina trope. From what I understand, as the brain recovers, this person can regain partial awareness of the past, in bits and pieces. In fiction, you can use this device to give readers clues about an unknown moment in the past so they can enjoy solving the mystery along with (or a little ahead of) the protagonist. If your reader knows the about the moment, you can create tension about the timing of the awarenesses and how it might change the protagonist's responses to events.

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