Ever had a character pop up out of nowhere? Amanda has taken up residence in my head. She first appeared last week in a flash – a name and the number 17. She came back yesterday in much stronger form. I can see her sitting on the beach, with the breeze blowing her hair loose from its clip. Apparently she’s telling a story to someone (the omniscient “I” right now). There’s a great deal of pain in her eyes as she starts to tell the story, and the listener both wants to hear and is afraid of the answer. There’s tension on both sides, but for different reasons – I can’t wait to hear what happened!
So the interesting question is: Where did Amanda come from? Has she always been there, or has she just appeared? Or is it maybe that she chose to show herself to me, because I’m ready to tell her story now?
There are two kinds of writing constructs which just pop into my head: characters and plots.
I believe they come from the same place.
Your brain is broken into three different parts of remarkably different responsibility. There’s your primal brain which takes care of eating, breathing, and moving around. From a writer’s perspective, this part of the brain is pretty stupid and a non-factor unless you’re hungry, horny, or stoned. (Note: some will argue this is the source of all things great and small)
Your second brain, the obvious brain or consciousness, is the one which you use to get through the day. This is the one that makes sure your socks match and it makes sure you drive on the right side of the road. The brain is great at simple tasks and it does them efficiently, but, again, it does not add much to the writer’s inspiration.
Your last brain, the hidden brain, is writer’s pay dirt. This is the brain which is always sifting through data. This brain is a big fat magnet for information – it’s always sorting and organizing information into interesting shapes and colors, and every once in awhile, it finds a truly fascinating construction and it pushes it out into your consciousness usually when the last thing your shooting for is inspiration.
For me, it’s usually just a taste of a character or a half-formed thought, but it often is much bigger than that. I find myself standing in the shower staring straight into a three dimensional character. WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE?
What is generated by the hidden brain is not random because you have intimate control over the information which is sent into this non-stop sifting machine. You’re constantly silently telling it what you need in terms of inspiration when you decide to call an old friend, when you watch a building collapse, when you miss a loved one… all of these activities are taken in, sifted, and sorted.
I’ve had two such discoveries in the past month.
MCKENNA: This is a woman who lives in the desert. She’s into yoga and she’s a terrific flirt. She’s lousy with technology and has some incomprehensible secret that I have yet to uncover. Also, great hair.
PLOT/STORY: A book divided in half. The first half is about some regular Joe who is having a boring old life. Something drastic happens and then we begin the second half of the book where we’ve moved to a completely different part of the world/universe with an entirely new plot. It’s unclear whether we’ve moved backwards or forwards in time, but we slowly discover our protagonist (or possibly at the very end of the story) who has become an entirely new character. The essential question being, in the second half of the book, what does take to completely drive you out of your life?