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The Recency Effect

September 12, 2012

I have often found that my writing is highly influenced by anything I read, watch, or do around the time I am writing. Somehow or other, consciously or unconsciously, nearly everything around me manages to infiltrate into my written works. I like to call it synthesis of information, but it could more aptly be termed The Recency Effect. I believe it to be a part of psychology. Whenever we do something, it sticks in our brains for a time afterwards and affects other things that we do. This will of course happen to a larger extent if we do something repetitively, such as watch many episodes of a television show in a row. Then when we write, small aspects of these activities find their way into our writing.

One time I noticed this was while I was finishing the writing of my newest book, Discordant Tones. Around that time, I had been watching Stargate SG-1 through Netflix. I probably watched three to five episodes or so a day because it was summer and I had little else to do. After watching all of this, I found that some of my characters started to exhibit similar mannerisms to the characters in the show. One of my characters once answered a question with the word “Indeed” just as Teal’c in Stargate often does. When Netflix canceled its streaming of the show without warning (which was very frustrating since I was only on Season 5 out of 10), my characters slowly reverted back to their previous states.

Is it a crime for modern life to incorporate itself into writing? I do not believe so. It is impossible to write without any influence from the outside world. We are the sum of our experiences, so of course our writing will change as we are exposed to different things. It would be unrealistic to expect characters to remain static throughout a work. Their personalities should likely change anyway as they grow. Life is at its core a process of synthesis. That is how we learn, live, and write. It is natural for writing to be impacted by the life of the author.

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2 Comments
  1. It is natural for the writer to be affected by events going on around them. However, as we write we should do everything possible to stay true to our characters. If the writer catches one of them acting or saying something outside their personality, It might be time to take a break and revisit the characters profile. I do this with fair regularity, especially if I have not written in a while. It re-grounds me in my character before I jump back into the fray.

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