word craft



One of the major tools of good writ­ing is mem­o­ry. Of course, we all observe things, but retain­ing those obser­va­tions, and using them when you write is a key to bring­ing your char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions to life for read­ers. And for the writer. 

To quote John Updike: “Mem­o­ries, impres­sions, and emo­tions from the first 20 years on earth are most writ­ers’ main mate­r­i­al; lit­tle that comes after­ward is quite so rich and resonant.” 


You might recall Louise Fitzhugh’s Har­ri­et the Spy. It’s almost a primer on what a writer should do—observe—and write—along with some of the com­plex results. 

Read­ers often ask me—as I know they ask oth­er writers—if my char­ac­ters are based on real peo­ple. Oth­er authors may have dif­fer­ent answers than mine, but my easy answer is “no.” Yet, that’s not real­ly the full truth. Thus, the phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of Bear in Crispin were based on some­one I knew—but I knew him only enough to describe him. There is noth­ing about what lit­tle I knew about this man’s per­son­al­i­ty in the book. 

The open­ing of A Place Called Ugly, is based on a moment when one of my sons was talk­ing about his dis­taste for return­ing to school after a sum­mer vaca­tion on the shore. But the char­ac­ter in the book—or the plot—is in no way like my son or what he ever did. 

The plot cir­cum­stance of Some­times I Think I Hear My Name was derived from sto­ries I heard from one of my kid’s friends. 

Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor is full of the sights and sounds of my boy­hood neigh­bor­hood and mem­o­ries of the polit­i­cal ten­sions of the 1950s. But the basic fam­i­ly sto­ry is not about my fam­i­ly, but is, in a major way, about the life of some­one I once knew and remembered. 

When you write, at any giv­en plot moment, you are try­ing to decide what a char­ac­ter might say or do. When you do decide it is based—consciously or not—on what you have observed and remem­ber. The more you have engaged with peo­ple, the more you have—and will—draw upon what you remember. 

As Hen­ry James said, “The artist is present in every page of every book from which he sought so assid­u­ous­ly to elim­i­nate himself.” 

1 thought on “Memory”

  1. So many great books from you, Avi. I’m old, but I still love your work. Thank you for all the stories.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Posts