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.
If 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?