Talents and Skills Entry: Photographic Memory

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY

Description: People with photographic (also called eidetic) memories can recall with great accuracy objects, text, images, and scenes seen for a brief period of time. It is debated whether true photographic memories exist. While there are people with incredible recall, the extent to which this ability is often portrayed in movies and books is definitely beyond the norm.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: intense focus

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, alert, curiosity, open-minded, self-controlled, calm, analytical

Required Resources and Training: Because photographic memories in the truest sense aren’t believed to exist, creative liberty can be taken as to how the ability forms and whether or not it can be honed. You might cite genetics, brain injury, the effects of medication, electrocution, or any number of other possibilities to explain your character’s gift.

However, it’s pretty well accepted that everyone’s memory can be improved. For tips on how your character can hone his gift, see the Resources below.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Geniuses and savants are often portrayed as having photographic memories. Good cops and detectives also have near-perfect recall of details. The perception about photographic memories is that people with this gift can perfectly recall everything they’ve ever seen, even in moments when they weren’t particularly paying attention. They often describe their brains as being “cluttered.”

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • In a society where there is no written word or way of recording events
  • Witnessing pivotal events in history and being able to go forward in time and accurately report them
  • When someone has lied about an important event
  • To succeed in school
  • When one must recall facts, statistics, and exact numbers
  • In a debate or argument
  • Navigation in confusing environments and avoiding getting lost
  • Personal improvement (for work, a sporting activity, a pastime, or even for survival)
  • Leadership (learning from past mistakes & analyzing information)
  • Teaching or mentoring others
  • Supplying facts and figures when needed, or bearing witness
  • Adapting to change (using memory to navigate the dark) or dealing with the loss of a sense (blindness, for example)
  • Gambling (counting cards)

Resources for Further Information:

The Mind Palace Technique for Improving Memory

Memory Techniques

9 Types of Mnemonics For Better Recall 

20 Memory Ticks You’ll Never Forget

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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8 Responses to Talents and Skills Entry: Photographic Memory

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  4. Allen Parker says:

    Good post, but the tv series Criminal Minds has used this for years. Might sound derivative if you use it.

  5. Julie Musil says:

    Cool details about this trait. I’d be a terrible witness. I can’t remember a darn thing.

  6. :Donna Marie says:

    This is definitely a great skill to point out! I’m very visual, but my recall/memory can be faulty, so “photographic”? Nah! Would LOVE it though! I’m sure my artwork would improve, too 🙂 lol Thanks for the post, Becca!

  7. jeffo says:

    I’ve heard it suggested (and I don’t remember where, hah ha) that in theory, everything we’ve experienced, ever, exists somewhere in our brains, but the problem is our retrieval system.

    Something I’ve also found interesting is I have one or two images that are so vivid in my mind that I call them memories, but are apparently things that never actually happened. Very odd.

  8. This would be a great trait to have!!

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