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I was thinking about writing my first book (Blood on Her Hands.) There will be a main character who has amnesia. That's a problem for the book because she can't remember her past and anyone in it (parents, siblings, lovers, friends, etc.) She probably shouldn't because she is an ex-assassin who would kill for sport.

How do you write a book in which the main character has amnesia?

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  • I don't understand why this is a problem. Can you elaborate on the reasons why you find this particularly problematic to write? What obstacles do you see with this?
    – Philipp
    Feb 27, 2023 at 14:01
  • Like her backstory and everything. She has a very haunting past and if she runs into people from her past, how will she know?
    – getrekd54
    Feb 27, 2023 at 18:26
  • Probably because they will tell her. You should edit your question to add this, because comments on stack exchange are only temporary.
    – Philipp
    Feb 27, 2023 at 20:44
  • Well, why would they tell her? There past can not be spoken about, will she just remember bits of pieces?
    – getrekd54
    Feb 27, 2023 at 21:06
  • Have you seen the movie The Bourne Identity?
    – Philipp
    Feb 27, 2023 at 21:26

3 Answers 3

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That's a problem for the book because she can't remember her past and anyone in it (parents, siblings, lovers, friends, etc.). But she probably shouldn't because she is an ex-assassin who would kill for sport.

Well, when you have a past like that, it is going to catch up with you sooner or later. No matter if you want to or not.

  • The next of kin of her victims will seek revenge.
  • Law enforcement will try to bring her to justice.
  • Clients will want to make use of her services again. Some might not accept a "No" for an answer.
  • Other clients might try to kill her to get rid of any loose ends

All these people might be looking for her. And after some uncomfortable encounters with these groups of people, she will probably want to know more about them. If she wants to survive, she will have to do her own research and find out who is looking for her, why they are looking for her, and how she might be able to get out of that mess. That will require her to find out about and confront her own past. There is a lot of interesting story to write here.

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The same way you write any other book: Write down what happens to the protagonist.

If the person forgets things, then you write that she forgets things. If that causes problems for her, you describe those problems.

If you don't know how amnesia works, how it feels for a person, and what problems it causes, you need to do some research first.

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A couple stories where such has occurred: We can Remember it for You Wholesale by P.K. Dick, the story the Scwarzenegger movie Total Recall was loosely based on. The Minority Report the story by P.K. Dick, and the Tom Cruise movie based on it. I'd have to go back and look, but I seem to recall that there are some more stories by P.K. Dick that involve some kind of amnesia or people messing with memory and such.

Also, there were some Doctor Who episodes where the Doctor had amnesia of one form or another. In one, he has removed his memory and placed it in a device so that he can hide from aliens who can read minds. In another, he is in a time loop where he dies at the end, over and over, for billions of years, until he finds an escape. In a few episodes, he meets a time-copy of one of his earlier or later selves that does not have the same memories he does. It's a big wibbly-wobbly time-ee-wime-ee thing.

The movie 50 First Dates is about a person who has no long term memory. Her long term memory stops at a particular day. She lives through each day when she wakes up, thinking it is the next day from the end of her memory. Then when she goes to sleep, she permanently forgets the most recent day. It's very poignant.

Time-travel negative amnesia (where you remember stuff that has not happened) is a big plot point of All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakura, the story that the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow is based on.

Stories about memory and amnesia frequently sneak in some questions about what personality consists of, what it means to be you. If you did a lot of stuff that you now can't remember, are those actions part of you? Should you try to get the memory back?

The thing to keep in mind when you write a character with amnesia is, they really can't remember. It's not that they are pretending. The memory isn't there. So, in effect, they are a different person to the person with the memory.

So if they have forgotten events that shaped their personality, they will be different by that much without the memory. If they have forgotten important people, for example, they won't have the emotions that go with that person.

Don't have them doing things that depend on the memory. Have them move forward in their story with the memory they have. Have them do stuff based on the memory.

Until and unless they start getting clues, or partial recall, that is, or maybe the people around them are telling them stuff they have forgotten. You can get into a huge amount of drama between the people who want them to remember and the amnesiac who just wants to lead their own life.

Another thing to keep in mind is, amnesia is a trope. It can become cliché very fast. It's sufficiently frequent in soap operas, for example, that it became a frequent New York Times crossword clue and answer. It did that often enough that it was considered a cliché in the NYT crossword.

The hope is to do something fresh and interesting. That's kind of a big challenge.

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