By Mike Klaassen
An argument can be made that recollection should be classified merely as a subset of introspection. But a character’s thoughts may include much more than recollection. Furthermore, lumping recollection with introspection:
- Downplays the unique role recollection plays in fiction
- Diminishes the likelihood that recollection will be fully analyzed and understood by students of fiction
- Reduces the likelihood that recollection will be utilized skillfully and to its full potential
A character may recall any information to which he has been exposed. That information may be from earlier in the story (as with a detective recalling a clue from the crime scene). A character may also recall information from before the beginning of the story.
To fully appreciate the role of recollection, a novelist must first understand the timeline of a story. Aristotle is credited with being the first to recognize that stories have a structure based upon their timeline: beginning, middle, and ending.[i] Today, that timeline should be updated: backstory, present story (beginning, middle, ending), and future story.[ii]
Backstory consists of events, including a character’s background, that precede the beginning of the story. Future story isn’t limited to science fiction, where characters may travel to and from the future; it may include an implied future for characters (such as when they ride into the sunset, presumably to live happily ever after).
Backstory may be viewed as a subset of information communicated through exposition (the fiction-writing mode for conveying information), which may be delivered via three different methods:
- by direct narration (from the all-seeing, all-knowing narrator)
- with expository devices (props, such as a diary, a message in a bottle, a treasure map)
- through characters (via dialogue, introspection, recollection)
Recollection may be used to pull backstory into “the present” of a story simply by having a character recall information or events. As with most tools of fiction-writing, however, there are numerous issues related to the presentation of recollection:
- Prompting recollection
- Verbs of recollection
- Recollection in scenes
- Recollection vs. flashbacks
- Recollection in sequels
- Recollection and epiphany
- Partial recollection
- Choosing recollection
Recollection may be the most underappreciated of the fiction-writing modes, but its power to pluck information from earlier in the story and from before the story makes it an invaluable writing tool.
Mike Klaassen is the author of Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life, which is available for order at traditional and online bookstores. You may “Look Inside” the book at Amazon.com.
This article was adapted from an article published by Helium.com on December 13, 2008. Copyright 2008 and 2022 Michael John Klaassen. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this article with others.
[i] Aristotle. Poetics. New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 13. ISBN: 9780140446364.
[ii] Klaassen, Fiction-Writing Modes, 57. ISBN: 9781682221006.