Sunday, March 18, 2012

There's a Trope For That - Week of March 18

This week's trope: Easy Amnesia

"In the real world, amnesia is rare, and it can last anywhere from days to a lifetime.

On TV, amnesia is just a plot device for the current episode or movie. Everything and anything the character knows about him or herself may be lost, or just the last 24 hours may disappear — it's completely dependent on the plot. 

If the victim recovers, it usually occurs by the end of the episode, with the character simply bonking their noggin a second time (conveniently ignoring the fact that this is likely to make things worse, not better)."

I chose this trope this week because I love it.


Like many things in TV and movies, the trope doesn't reflect real life. In reality, amnesia is a terrible thing. It shouldn't be taken lightly. But in fiction, it's a super fun toy for writers to mess around with. (More accurately: it lets the writer mess around with their poor, helpless characters.) One great reason to give amnesia to a character is so he forgets where his home is, and everyone thinks he is dead. Works great with shipwreck survivors, soldiers, teenage runaways, and so on. Later, a happy(?) reunion can occur and the amnesiac can get his life back. Another good reason to give a character the ol' conk upside the head is so that he or she forgets something important, such as a murder she witnessed or a superhero's secret identity he accidentally discovered. The memories can then be recovered sometime later in the season at an opportune time, or maybe never at all, but there's always the possibility the memories will return, and this keeps the audience guessing.

But just like anything, Easy Amnesia has its pitfalls. Writers can go too far. They can torture their viewers... even alienate them completely. 

So I've decided to make a list. I'm calling it: Okay, you can give your character amnesia, but whatever you do, DON'T...

  • Don't... do it more than once. Just like jokes get less funny each time they're told, bouts of amnesia get less tolerable each time they're played out. Besides, plot-reuse is a sign you're losing your touch. CREATIVITY. GET SOME.

  • Don't... break apart a romantic couple by conking one over the head, leaving them with no recollection of his beloved. Especially don't do this when it's a couple that the audience loves, and you darn well know it. You think you're clever, TV show writers? Just wait till your ratings plummet! See how clever you feel then! RAWR.

  • Don't... Turn the amnesiac into a raging idiot. Amnesia doesn't make you a moron. You don't forget basic skills. You don't start acting clumsy. (Then again, the clumsiness could be a sign of something more serious the character sustained from the initial head injury... er, wait a minute, when did I turn into House?)

And finally, and possibly most importantly...

  • Don't... cause the amnesia by having the character get hit on the head by a coconut.
It's been done.

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