A SUDDEN IDEA –
What prompts a writer to suddenly write down an idea? Author – there’s a lot going on when you write.
When your idea appears ‘out-of-the-blue’ , more likely the germ of the idea lies in some unconscious association. Past experience affects the significance of something that appears novel, something just seen or heard or half-remembered.
Why notice say, the length of someone’s thumb, rather than their choice of tie? Subliminal exposure can influence preferences. Even patients with amnesia may show that someone/something is emotionally important to them, without remembering ever encountering these objects of their affection.
The reason for the significance of the idea is unconscious. But the emotional experience is conscious.
As a writer, you are just aware of ‘the good idea’ and the urge to write it down. But every scene, even the familiar surrounds of the working or home environment, holds a kaleidoscope of auditory, olfactory and visual stimuli.
Jane focuses on a woman’s blue-grey dress. She doesn’t know why. She distorts its appearance later in a story. Long forgotten, Jane’s shouting aunt was wearing such a dress during a traumatic quarrel.
Derek, beside her, is irritated by the gestures of another guest. He can’t say why but worries away at the conundrum. He may dredge up the original stimulus. If so, that is very satisfying. Catching the germ feels good even if the original stimulus was upsetting. It’s a feeling of getting things into place.
This unconscious layer of memory has a social and a survival function. To know the minds of others, (are they dangerous, are they to be trusted?) is useful, often vital. From our very early days we must attend to the available cues, whether in their verbal or nonverbal behaviour. I remember saying something cheeky as a small child and peering at an adult to work out whether their mouth bore a smile or an annoyed grimace.
We unconsciously absorb tiny details that contain information about a person’s inner qualities; there is a kind of template against which new experiences can be tested over time. When a writer includes such detail it is recognised as significant by the reader. The reader may not know why but s/he also has this layer of awareness built up from infancy that alerts him or her to such clues.
A character may be softly rubbing his eyebrow as he reads. The reader enjoys noticing this detail as a guide to that character’s reaction, and ultimately, personality. It is this kind of detail that moves a piece of writing to another level, (and is often missing from plot-driven fiction). Whether it is the writer writing it, or the reader reading it, such detail makes for what we often call a ‘rich’ read.
© Copyright 2015 Rosalind Minett
The posts on this blog are the original work of Rosalind Minett. If sharing or quoting, please credit the author.