Memory loss trope and research

hello! hopefully this is in the right category. i’m currently starting a fantasy-magic story that begins with the main character losing their memory, original i know /lh/s

because of this i was actually wondering this: what do you dislike / like about the memory loss trope? any tips on writing this? preferably about retrograde amnesia

i have an idea of how i’d like to handle it and i’ll continue doing cursory research into this on my own, but i’m not very skilled with researching things or where to even begin, so if anyone has advice for a novice writer regarding memory loss or whatever, i’d appreciate it!

also, off-topic-ish question… is there a better place to ask for writing advice, a place to ask random questions on tropes and topics, or maybe even proper place to research things? i’m not sure if there’s a forum post here i could reply to for this kinda thing instead or maybe some easier site to research whatever

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Would this be traumatic memory loss, age or disease related amnesia, induced amnesia, or something supernatural?

Most often I see it limited to one question “for now” because of time constraints (read: because the game says so) but then for some reason you never get an opportunity to ask the other questions.


These could maybe be interesting for you:

As for memory loss… I absolutely hate it when my character is not allowed to ask the most logical, obvious questions, just to prevent them from figuring out the truth too early in the story.


What I hate most is when the character is extremely nonchalant about it. No panic that lasts for longer than one scene. No bitterness about what they’ve lost etc.

Or when they’ve been running around with amnesia with a new group of friends (or group of people that have been exploiting this amnesia somehow). And then magically regain all their memories, and this doesn’t meaningfully change the dynamic of the group, and also doesn’t make them try to get back with people they knew before, that they now presumably have more memories of.

There isn’t really anything I like about the trope, but I guess it makes exposition dumps easier. :person_shrugging:


LOL This!!! And it totally comes down to the same issue: Keeping the player and MC dumb in the most obvious way.

I also agree with @Bikkje about everyone always acting too nonchalant about it. I have worked with people with dementia in different stages, and while I understand this is a different beast and not the thing entertainment seeks to realistically represent, if you have seen people with actual memory loss and how it affects them AND their relatives… It’s extremely fucked up and traumatic.

:grimacing: :face_vomiting:

AGAIN?!? :rofl:


A low-tech scenario can sorta circumvent this, provided you displace the character geographically so there’s nobody appropriate to ask questions of. HOWEVER, since we’re tacking magic onto the situation

you’re going to have to take care in what magic you’re putting in, because magic is basically technology, but better if you have access to it (the advantage of tech over magic is that it’s easily widespread; the advantage of magic is that it does completely bonkers stuff).

Like, if there’s divination magic I should be able to use it to figure out the missing memories or give me such a solid lead on how to get those memories that the difference isn’t really all that much. If priests can commune with their god, and I hand a priest a bunch of money for incense or something to ask the god the question and the result is “the god knows, but they ain’t telling”, then your god is a dick, I want my money back, and I’m making it my personal mission to desecrate every holy relic of theirs I come across.

I’m not sure if it’s a better place, but you can always try the monthly writer’s support thread.

Not remembering you burnt down that orphanage somehow absolves you of responsibility. It’s how Schroedinger’s Orphan works. /s

There’s ways around this. Maybe the Knower has a vested interest on you not remembering (and they’re good enough liars to keep up the charade without you noticing, because now I remembered another thing to go post on the “Stuff you hate thread” and that’s “but you choose not to press them on the issue” getting forced on you). Maybe you were the Evil Emperor :tm: but since you’ve been significantly dislocated from the capital, nobody actually knows what the Evil Emperor looks like, because they haven’t really been able to watch your speeches on TV (because no TV).


And who can’t help but love it when the memory loss trope bleeds into an ignorance is bliss message. /s

I’m just gonna kinda repeat what @JBento already pointed out. If there is magic in the setting, you need to really think hard about what magical solutions to medical problems or curses/mind control (assuming the amnesia stems form a magical source) are available.

Let’s not be unfair! We all know that if a villain forgets that they are a villain, it will also cure their psychopathy (and any other conditions), and all negative personality traits that contributed to them becoming a villain in the first place! /s


Yes, but as a player I fully expect someone around me to know something, because the memory loss trope is usually a siamese twin of TEH TWIST ™. When is it ever ONLY about someone losing their memory?


its a hit and miss for me. frankly i like the memory loss trope when the mc is not relying so heavily on one character to function. i hate how characters tend to just force the mc and basically drag them to some place and force them to some role.

i second this one. like, the mc panics for a bit then suddenly forget about it? like they suddenly move on and theyre fine with everything now? like let me panic for a long time, heck let me panic for the rest of the book if i have too. losing youre memory and being surrounded by people who knows a version of you that you dont know sounds like a nightmare. i would be absolutely cry and lose my mind overthinking and trying to be the person that they used to know

i think it depends on the context on what the memory is used on. memory trope talks about the different types of situations some sort of memory loss is happening.


thank you all for your insight! i appreciate it. also all of this is… kinda long, so i’m sorry about that

explanation of my ideas regarding the source of amnesia:

i’m unsure if this fits or makes sense, but i was thinking the amnesia is related to brain damage. the story starts and takes place in the desert and with the PC passing out from heatstroke (something else i’m looking into but amnesia is a main plot point in this)

specifically they’d be experiencing something my grandmother (who used to work in a hospital) called ‘status epilepticus’. from the way she explained it, it has more to do with lack of oxygen to the brain, but i’m also aware heatstroke can cause seizures which i was thinking would cause SE

i’ll be doing more research for the above of course, since most of my googling has brought up symptoms for heatstroke or SE rather than one causing the other (that doesn’t mean i’ll give up researching if i go this route of course! i just realized that i may need to brainstorm more before beginning if i want this as my first book)

for magic VS. amnesia:

so, for magic in this world, it isn’t really all powerful. in canon it’s really only been a few hundred years since the development of magic as a whole, and magic before was pretty unexplored. even the rich needed years to learn it, and some simply don’t have the ability to. with the discovery of a new power source / magic focus, there’s been leaps in advancements that prompted the founding of a big magic research academy

since the amnesia itself results from brain damage, none of the companions or the academy would be able to really ‘undo’ the amnesia. the brain is very delicate (afaik) and i think any previous study into it has been effectively banned since any previous time has either killed or worsened the state of patients

also, i wasnt really thinking abt divination before this so that’s very helpful, thank you! i think in terms of this, while there is clairvoyance, none of the companions would be able to do this either. i can see maybe a church or the academy knowing more about this though. but i’m not sure how powerful divination is and if the churches actually have contact with whatever gods. i haven’t given thought to that so i’ll think it over

no NPC’s in any place they could immediately reach would know them / about them since they’re pretty far from their home. PC themself has lost any ability to weild magic bc of the amnesia, so they can’t divine their own memories either. if they eventually could from relearning, there’s nothing really To unlock. for the PC, they’re entirely gone. they would be trying to divine memories they don’t have… at least i think? i could be wrong in how this works

how amnesia is treated in the story:

i don’t intend for the amnesia to be a sort of “one and done” situation. the PC will struggle with feeling out of place both in location and in time within + throughout the story. they’ll be able to grieve/panic/struggle with their loss of memory and it’ll be a main plot to the story itself

however this will be temporarily put off to visit the main research city since PC pretty much nearly died out in the desert and needs more specialized healing magic / training to properly start recovering from it

also, i’m really debating whether PC will ever fully truly recover their memories at all. they’ll have the chance to learn more about their past from others, but i’m unsure if i want an ‘epiphany moment’ since i feel like it would make the struggles the PC went through kinda mute

also i do want to plainly say that… yes, this amnesia plot is used to hide things in the story ^^;; as it’s spoilers, i don’t want to talk about it indepth, but i’ll still be researching people’s experiences with it and the struggles people have with losing a big portion of their life and identity

i do also want to mention that the way i’ll be using amnesia probably won’t be an Entirely realistic take on the struggles that come with it, since i don’t personally expierence amnesia and will be using it as plot. (i’ll research it ofc.) i Do however want to ground the amnesia in some amount of realism so it doesn’t seem too contrived

also thank you for the suggestions! i do semi-closely follow liked/hated tropes but i may go back and read through everything fully. also the tvtropes page is very helpful! and i’ll look into utalizing the writer’s support thread too. i may have missed some stuff, but hopefully this explains things better

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Ok, amnesia from brain injury that isn’t related to specific memories would be caused by damage to the limbic system, which also affects emotions. So the character’s emotions would probably be affected too.

(It’s probably also likely to temporarily cause anterograde amnesia as well, but it’s not like media ever covers this anyway)


Well in that particular situation you could make it a side quest for them to tell…assuming the info is worth more than the cost of some incense, and then have that side quest compete with (far) more lucrative ones, or if the author is feeling really mean romance sub-quests.

You can do that with one romance option being that toxic for the mc…but if that is the only one in the game then count me out. I mean the ex-fiancee in the Price of Emeralds WIP seems like they were and could be a toxic romance…given the setting of the WIP overall none of the other romances may be particularly healthy or trustworthy for that fact too, but at least they are not situations were the mc would be stupidly falling for the same trick twice.

And as others already touched on the cause of memory loss matters too, if it is the result of a magical curse or memory inhibition chip then resolving it would grant an epiphany moment, aka the scene where everything comes “flooding back” all of a sudden, when or if the challenge is overcome, as well as the fact that mc would really have to own up to any past misdeeds.
If it is brain damage on the other hand, even if we say the magic or tech in the story allows the mc to eventually recover the brain would be doing that by making new connections and finding new pathways that could indeed alter emotions and base personality too and even learning about your past may as well be learning about the life of a stranger wearing your face, even more since as with learning about any historical or public figure, no matter how well documented their life is there will always remain significant gaps and barring magic or telepathy the inner thoughts you had in your previous life will remain as unknown to the person the mc has become as they are to everybody else.


Why not take it a step further and make a game where pursuing romance IS the cause of memory loss, with other quests and options becoming fewer and fewer, your MC’s agenda fading, the skill stats plummeting, until the only quest available is an endlessly repeating date.

I wasn’t really serious; it was more about my experience with the Evertree Saga and the kind of obsession with a single RO that leads to the negligence of everything else. But there’s a general truth to it, the one you were getting at with this, and which isn’t limited to my personal experience and affects many players:

A lot of times games WILL force you to choose between really useful things to do, and totally dumb, irrelevant shit, but it’s irrelevant shit with YOUR RO™, so of course you choose that one. And I think it would be a nice, consequent idea to totally follow through with this and have the MC truly lose everything until there is literally nothing left but that one date, as a meta-commentary on what is basically happening in many games. Of course, this is more interesting as a thought experiment than an actual game to play.

given the toxicity of the MC*

I still think the MC is worse than their ex even though everyone seems to disagree with me.

I love when stories surprise me, I’m the kind of person who keeps trying to guess where the story will go as I’m reading/watching, it gets to the point where I can’t even control that, lots of the time my predictions are wrong and I do prefer it like that, it’s not like I think every story where I can guess parts of the plot is bad, even if I know where the story is going I can still enjoy it if the journey is fun.
Whenever amnesia is introduced in a story my brain immediatly thinks the story is gonna be about learning who the amnesiac was and why they lost their memories, when the whole plot revolves around that I usually think that they were evil but forgot all about their evilness.
My thought process is this: “If I was the author, what would be the most dramatic way I can use this amnesia?”
This trope is a great source for drama and it’s strong enough to carry whole stories but lots of writers abuse that power by throwing a lot of crap at the readers without thinking if it makes sense or not. I specially hate when the lost memories come back at the most convenient time plot-wise, I can see the hand of the author clearly there. Another one that I hate is when the memories were lost in some physical accident and the way to get them back is by striking the character in the head again, I love when it is made as a joke but when it seriously works I call bullshit.
In fiction amnesia has different causes, some crazy ones at times. Since the rules are so lose it gives authors a lot freedom to play around with the trope, which manifests in the story having more twists than a pretzel, but these twists won’t make the reader appreciate the author’s cleverness cause the reader can tell the author had total control from the start. Writing amnesia works a lot like writing magic, there needs to be limits and authors can never pass those limits. Establish the causes of amnesia and how they can be fixed, IF they can be fixed, and never ever break those rules.
There’s A LOT more I want to talk about but instead I’m gonna recomend a little video essay by a channel called Overly Sarcastic Productions, the video is called “Trope Talk: Amnesia”, it’s really fast paced but in a good way, cause it’s concise.


I’m binging OSP right now, everything is so goooooooood.


Wholeheartedly agree. I wish I had found them and the TV Tropes site MUCH sooner.

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Hoooo, be careful! TV Tropes will ruin your life.

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Depends on what kind of memory loss you are talking about.
There are different types of memory loss which can ranged from people trying to forget traumatic events to medical issues. Of course, since you are doing fantasy, you can always chalk it up to “magic”.
Just make sure you have a consistent concept of what you are about to write.


It already has :upside_down_face: