The brain is marvelously adaptive at making sense out of the world. Given fragments of information and incomplete observations, our brains put together a picture or a story. The famous blind spot in our vision is an excellent example. The optic nerve connects to the retina leaving a hole in our vision. Yet the brain fills this in nicely.
Memory is the same. We store information about past events and recall them when needed, but every time we put the recalled memory back, we lose something of it. Our brain fixes it when we recall the memory again and plays its version of connect the dots. Over time our memory can become altered which explains why people have different memories of a shared experience.
A technique I like to use in writing is to toss out fragments of a character’s past. Bit and pieces laced throughout the tale. In my novel Claws of the Griffin, Peter Reynolds remembers his own mother’s funeral while attending a burial for an old girlfriend. Another time, he recalls when the headmaster at a boarding school lectured him about the dangers of hitch hiking. Yet another memory is of him being shipped off to summer camp shortly after his father remarries. Fragments of his life are revealed a few words, a sentence or a paragraph at a time. By the novel’s end the reader has a picture of what molded Peter into the character of the story.
Did I tell a complete story of his life? Did I go on prolonged flashbacks? No. I relied on the reader’s brain to fill in the blanks.