Sometimes, I’m not surprised that people think writers are crazy.
Not only do we spend all our spare time – or, in some cases, all our time time – stuck behind a desk having conversations with people who don’t exist, but we pour everything we have into these odd little encounters with the unreal. We get upset when our characters do; we feel their triumphs and their sorrows. We might be in the middle of having dinner, or watching a TV show, or a cosy chat with a loved one, when we’ll suddenly leap up, shouting something about plots, and knots, and unravelling, and we’ll have to go and find something to write on.
It’s probably a little like Archimedes, and how he felt the day he took that fateful bath.
When you’re working on a book, your brain is only ever partially present in your day-to-day life. Behind the scenes. it’s churning away at your novel, thinking out plot structures, working at textual knots, thinking about characters and whether that reaction is realistic or this conversation is too stilted – and it always picks the most inopportune moments to drop its findings into your lap.
As well as plotting problems – you may remember my post the other day about my storyline resolving itself in the depths of the night and my patient husband’s forbearance as I disturbed his sleep to take note of it before it vanished – my writer’s brain is constantly on error-spotting duty, too. The other day, out of the blue, something struck me about the book I’m currently writing, and it was a mistake so stupid that I started to laugh.
I was in public, but nobody knew me. So, that doesn’t count. Right?
Anyway. I laughed aloud at my own silliness, and then dug out my overworked phone (if I ever happen to lose this teeny piece of technology, it will be an international crisis situation, because my entire life is on it), and made myself a short and not-so-sweet note. I reminded myself, using some quite colourful language, that this error needed to be fixed without delay and that I was a proper idiot for letting it happen in the first place.
The reason for all this? I’d written a scene earlier in the book where my protagonist has an accident and hurts her wrist, which ends up being bandaged. At that point in the story I’d even had the doctors put it in a sling, which obviously restricted her movement and left her only one hand to work with. It was all terribly sad and painful and dramatic and everything that goes with a sprained wrist in a modern hospital scenario, and that was fine. I was happy with my day’s work; I saved it, turned the computer off and went about the rest of my duties.
But the next day – in the very next chapter – I blithely re-entered my fictional world and wrote about my character tapping away on a laptop and carrying things in each hand and shuffling papers (hard to do one-handed – try it sometime), forgetting entirely about her injury.
So, I’m sure you’ll now understand my laughter, and my reasons for writing myself that terribly unflattering note. Because, of course, forgetting that you’ve injured your character, and that such injuries have consequences on them for the rest of the book, is very silly. Sadly, it’s something I do a lot.
Catching it early is important – something that can be helped by reading your work over whenever you sit down to add to it. Not the whole thing, perhaps, but the last chapter or the previous few paragraphs, just to reacquaint yourself with what’s been going on. I had neglected to do this, and so I’d managed to get a couple of chapters in, post-injury, waffling on about things that should have been impossible for my character to accomplish with one hand bound to her chest. Once it had been spotted, about twenty pages of unpicking to do – removing references to my character using her ‘hands’, adjust her clumsiness levels accordingly if she tries to do anything more complicated than hold a fork, be aware that she’s injured down one side and that if someone bumps into her, or tries to hug her, it might hurt. In the end, it wasn’t that hard to undo, and the day was saved.
But imagine the horror if I’d forgotten this detail for the rest of this draft. My heroine clambering across rocks, braving the heights of a ship’s rigging, saving her friends from fates worse than death – all without me remembering she has an injured wrist? If I’d managed to write the rest of the story while forgetting this detail, it would have been far worse. I’d either have had to remove the injury – and, therefore, lose an important scene – or rewrite every other action scene the heroine had in order to take her injury into account.
Or, of course, risk leaving the book as-was and hoping nobody else noticed – but that’s not very clever.
Luckily, however, all this has been averted. In future I think I’ll try to leave myself some more flattering notes – not ones written in all caps, full of exclamation marks and rude names – but I hope my brain will always remain on duty to remind me of these writerly slip-ups. Even if it does take a couple of days for the message to get through, it’s better late than never.