I like to think of myself as an inspirational writer. It’s ironic when you think about it because I don’t believe in inspiration – well, not in the way most people do.
It’s all in the mind, you see.
The subconscious mind solves problems, throwing up answers, often with no warning. It can take minutes or weeks or years, but the principle’s the same. You feed in information and questions and it works away in the background to sort it all out for you.
Call it inspiration, if you wish, because that’s what it feels like, but I think it’s better than that.
When I wrote my first murder mystery novel, No Accident, I couldn’t find a way for my protagonist, Kent Fisher, to solve the crime. No matter which way I approached it, no matter how many times I rewrote huge swathes of the book, I couldn’t find the clues he needed to solve the murder.
Then I set about revising and editing the novel, which was way too long. Then, as I approached the point where I’d fallen before, the clue I needed to solve the crime came into my head. Better than that, as I stitched the two parts of the story together, I came up with an unexpected twist, quickly followed by another.
It seemed like inspiration and felt like magic, but my subconscious mind had given me the answers my conscious mind couldn’t.
Have you ever had moments when the answer comes to you out of the blue?
In the second novel, No Bodies, Kent Fisher had no problems solving the murders, but the story needed a lot more depth and substance. Yet again, while editing and rewriting, I wasn’t expecting the new ideas that came to me, or the neat little twist at the end of the story.
When I started writing the first draft of the third murder mystery in the series, No Remorse, I had an opening line and a vague idea of writing about abuse of the elderly in residential care homes. This was the opening I had in my head:
The old man’s grip tightens on my forearm. “They’re killing me.”
From here, I wrote the opening chapter, inventing characters and a luxury home. Then I worked out who could be murdered, created 4 or 5 suspects with motives, and continued writing. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, and the surprises keep coming as the plot grows more complex with each chapter.
Do I know where I’m going with the story?
Yes, I now know roughly what will happen, but not how it will happen. I trust my subconscious to help me with that.
When I explained this during a recent talk, people couldn’t believe I could write without a detailed plan, a roadmap if you prefer. But I spend far too much of my waking time thinking about the story, the characters, what I’ve written and what will come next. All this goes into my subconscious mind.
I love writing this way, not knowing what comes next. It keeps my writing fresh and alive. I discover the clues a moment before Kent Fisher and then watch how he deals with it. Then, as the end of a chapter approaches, the magic really begins.
I usually come up with a hook to intrigue the reader and make them want to read on. Sometimes, these hooks come out of nowhere, surprising and confounding me. They nearly always pile on more complications or give me an unexpected slant on a character or the plot.
Is it inspiration?
No, because these hooks fit the overall frame of the story, even if I don’t know where they’ll take me. None of them send me down blind alleys (well, not yet anyway), and each hook leaves me eager to write the next chapter to see how the story develops.
Maybe my subconscious knows the story better than me.
What do you think?
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