Marvelous Brains (sorry, not a zombie love story)

A friend and I were recently discussing the subconscious writer-brain; it knows things it doesn’t actually tell us about. These bits of knowing are always there, guiding us along a certain path, just waiting for the opportunity to reveal themselves in all their glory. Some people call this their muse. I’m a whimsical sort of person, but I don’t ascribe to the nebulous being hovering over my shoulder feeding me plot points and character development. I’m doing all the hard work. I’ll take the credit, thank you very much. I don’t believe this is an accidental occurrence, either.

imagesVVS0VDLAIf we were conscious of every plot point all the time, we’d overload. I can’t think of a more stressful thing to deal with. It would be like trying to remember every grammar rule and writing trend as we create that first draft. It’s why we writers need several passes at a manuscript to get it right once that first draft is done. One pass for plot and pacing, one for grammar, one (or more) for polish. Anyone who says otherwise is deluded.

So our subconscious holds on to things, gives them out bit by bit. Sometimes the genius-held-in-check strikes while we’re at the keyboard, like it did for my friend the other day. And sometimes it whams us when we’re least suspecting. For me, like for many, this happens most often in the shower. (There is some cool science behind this phenomenon, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

This morning, it wasn’t genius my subconscious hit me with, but a detail I messed up in the second book in my Bitterly Suite, Dreaming August. It’s a tiny detail, a throwaway detail, but an extremely wrong detail. My train of thought leading to it:

People in my family who say hello and goodbye, and people who don’t.

It’s very important to my daughter to always say good-bye.

Because her father died when she was almost three, and she didn’t say good-bye to him before he left the house that morning.

Benny, the heroine of Dreaming August, lost her husband to a motorcycle accident, like I did.

And that gave me the scene in which this tiny detail went wrong, because the accident happened six years prior to the opening of the story, while Benny was attending a friend’s baby shower. A friend who would not even meet her husband for another five years. D’oh.

I have been over this book, and over it. Poor Penny. I’ve sent her at least four “updated” versions of this manuscript, and it’s not even due in until sometime around September. Why did this detail hit me today? Train of thought? Sure. But, this detail I’ve been over so many times without catching only today, in a round about fashion, zaps me.

Does this ever happen to you? How does your genius find you?


Filed under Writing is Life

14 responses to “Marvelous Brains (sorry, not a zombie love story)

  1. There are sooo many teeny-tiny details that make up book: I wish I could say that I get it right all the time but that would be far, far from the truth. You’re definitely not alone!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It has happened and it’s such a wonderful discovery. Almost as if you are playing a game of hide and seek with yourself

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s really quite a fascinating process, isn’t it? As the aforementioned friend, I’m still in shock over what my subconscious revealed for me the other day, but thrilled to have the insight. Funny also how even when our books are “through,” they aren’t in our heads. Love the brain picture 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The devil’s in the details. 🙂 I like the way our minds work when writing a story; by withholding certain details, it allows us to live some of the same tension our readers experience, but in a different way. We think we know what’s going to happen, but things often turn out otherwise.

    I’ve had to write up calendars of events to get my stories in order. High Maga was a nightmare this way. I had to sketch out a full time line of the pacing of the invasion and all the other threads that were happening concurrently, just to get all the events in order. Even then, things kept needing to be fixed right up to the very end. Frustrating, but what can we do? It’s all part of the job. 🙂


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      A nightmare of nightmares, Karin. I know those brain acrobatics well! I had a timeline pinned to my corkboard as I wrote A Time Never Lived. Keeping it all straight made my brain explode a few times.


  5. This always happens to me, Terri! Both with the details and sudden revelations. This happens to me most often when I’m driving, which is the worst. For some reason the ride clears my head and brings things into focus. Music helps too. 😉

    Great post!


  6. Also, I was really hoping for a zombie love story. 😛


  7. I like how your posts so often nudge my current thinking/process. My main character has been wilfully keeping information from me for weeks. But she was right to do so. I needed to get to a certain point in the story first & prove myself worthy of her trust & disclosure!

    The whole point surely is – it’s a process? Imagine, that morning when the idea for the story came to us – out of the dream; the vaguely imagined character emerged; the weird house, the sinister child or the box of hidden treasure… et al. And WE KNEW ALL THE REST OF IT!

    Not only would our brains blow up, we’d soon be bored as cats. 😉

    The ‘muse’ is an interesting concept. I think most writers like the idea of having one but are realistic enough to understand it’s a bit of a myth.

    (Right, I’m off to leave Virginia Woolf a nice tray of tea outside her bedroom door in the hope she’ll get up & give me a hand!)


    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Can you even imagine what lunatics we’d all be if our stories didn’t hold back details? Well, more looney than we already are, I mean.

      I love your “weird house, sinister child, box of treasures.” It’s already a book I want to read. Nice! Thanks for coming by, cariad! XX


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