I've done it again. Yep, in the midst of my latest reading binge, I've read two romances in a row with my favorite plot device and I'm not sure I've satisfied the craving. Before the day is out, I'll probably be scanning the back-of-the-book-blurbs for again that one word: amnesia.
Yes, it's an odd little obsession that's as addictive as chocolate. But, unlike chocolate, this binge is not a guarantee of satisfaction. For instance, in the first of the two books I read with the amnesia theme, the story didn't grab me at all and I skipped through the pages like a stone over water. I wanted it to work because it had what I think of as "great potential" (more on that later), but the execution just didn't happen. But with the second book I read, my persistence, or rather loyalty to the plot device, paid off with an engaging reading experience that promises to keep me hooked.
So, if there's one thing I know about my reading habits, the draw to a story is all about this "great potential." Simply put, is the book likely to have most of the things I enjoy? What are these "things" exactly? Well, that's a personal list that is kind of like that line from the Jerry Maguire movie, "You had me at hello." It's instant attraction. And with all instant attractions, what comes next is sort of unknown, but there is definitely "great potential."
For me, few story devices have as much "great potential" to fulfill this list as amnesia stories. My "You Had Me at Hello" list could also read "You Had Me at Amnesia." An odd connection, I know, but it seems to work. If I attempted to define just some of the intangibles for this appeal, here's what I'd choose, in no particular order:
Built-in Intrigue. Right off the bat, you know it's a mystery. The obvious question for the character with amnesia is "who am I?" but that's just the beginning of a journey to discover what might be a painful or dangerous past.
Vulnerability. Tied in with intrigue is the emotional draw of a character's vulnerability. It's a theme of secrets, possible mistaken identity, and sorting out who or what to trust. The character with amnesia or the one who meets up with (or reunites?) with the character with amnesia has had his or her frame of reference turned topsy turvy and has only one person to turn to -- the hero or heroine.
Second chances. One or both of the main characters is getting a second chance, whether they like it or not. Perhaps the character with amnesia is horrified to discover the person he or she (supposedly?) use to be. Or maybe it's the other main character, a lover from the amnesia character's past, hoping for redemption or a fresh start.
Back-burner tension. The original obstacle(s) that has been "forgotten" but has not gone away. It has to be dealt with eventually before any HEA, which (almost) guarantees suspense.
Borderline paranormal. This appeal is hard to describe. For someone who enjoys both paranormal and traditional elements, an amnesia plot sort of straddles the fence. The chances are slim, but it "could" happen in the real world.
So, there's my partial "You Had Me at Hello" list and why an amnesia plot becomes an auto-read. How can I resist?
But it's an overworked romance trope and medically implausible.
Who said that? Oh, it must have been the little voice of doubt in my head that I listen to off and on. Yes, this is a consideration for both reading and writing an amnesia plot. After all, a knock on the head without harming any of the cognitive abilities of person and an instant recovery might be hard to swallow! In fact, here's a web site that gives quite an argument on the pitfalls. (If you're a die-hard amnesia plot fan, this won't phase you!)
All About Romance: Amnesia in Romance.
For a writer, there are some good points in this article on acknowledging in the story the realistic medical problems associated with amnesia. For instance, in my recent romance reading with the amnesia plot device, there was a conscientious effort (in the good second book) to show that the heroine recovering from head trauma continued to have difficulty, such as with reading or with headaches. It wasn't over done, but enough to keep the writing of the subject intelligent.
Of course, much can go "wrong" with an amnesia plot, but before this happens, I always feel an instant attraction to the "great potential" of this device. My first novel -- big surprise -- had an amnesia plot.
What kind of a "You Had Me at Hello" reading preference list would you make? What do you think of amnesia plots? Any favorites to recommend are always welcome!
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