Monday Motivation: The power of textural memory

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Benyon's blog

05 SeptemberReturning to Venice reveals the power of textural memory. You might not remember what palazzo lies round the next corner of the Grand Canal – but you do remember the groaning of the rope as it brings the tethered vaporetto to a stop.

You might not remember precisely the route from San Silvestro to the square in which your lodgings – a grand palazzo, time-stained and shabbily imperious – are to be found, but you do remember the texture of those unplastered walls, or the washing hanging from the lines three stories up, or that faint smell of stale sea water as you cross one of the canals on your way.

Textural memory is memory writ small. It’s usually not labeled nor does it come decorated with capitals. It’s humble. It asks no favours. It seems undistinguished and unremarkable.

And yet it is the memory that lingers, so there’s no question that we did, somehow, without knowing, remark it. It lies somewhere in the interstices of our brains waiting to snap back into life, vibrant as ever it was.

Writing that papers its walls with textural detail is, to nudge that metaphor another inch or two along, wraparound. It fills our senses. It stretches from horizon to sensory horizon. It’s evocative. It triggers cascades of associations.

The bells are ringing in Venice as I write this line. It’s twelve o’clock on Sunday, and a hundred towers resound with the clamour of brass and iron. I can’t see any single bell from my vantage point – but I can hear them all, and together they constitute a three-dimensional soundscape that will live with me, I have no doubt, forever.

The canny writer calls on everyday textures to complete the world and the characters he’s created, and to maintain their reality despite their manifest fiction.

So don’t be ambitious. Don’t reach for the stars. Instead, describe as simply as you can the quotidian textures of your imaginary world – and that world will spring to life with all the exuberance of felt reality.

Happy writing,

Richard

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