Sometimes your instincts talk to you. Mine usually say deeply meaningful and insightful things like: ‘I’m hungry’, or ‘don’t be such a bloody idiot.’ I have learned to ignore the latter and immediately react to former.
I’m not sure I have this the right way around… but that’s me, and my waistline. Today I had a wallaby that had broken into an apparently securely fenced attempt at a lawn I was watering for a friend. I opened the gate and attempted my very best wallaby herding skills. I can tell that the wallaby was not impressed with them. First it got itself stuck between a picket and the fence – and then instead of running past me (where I was trying to give it as much space as possible, to encourage it to do so, to head it for the gate) it tried instinctively to flee and to try and jump the square mesh fence.
It did not clear the fence, but because wallaby are in one respect much like brontosauruses – thin at one end much thicker in the middle, and thin at the other end – it did fit into the top-layer of square mesh holes (slightly bigger than the bottom). The thin end at the top… fitted.
The thin end at the other end was prevented from following by the much thicker in the middle – which was now the well and truly jammed, by the desperate effort of that jump. So now I had a suspended wallaby in considerable discomfort and not happy with the world. My instinct said to rescue said distressed critter. Instinct got me kicked in the chest, but the idiot human did manage to free the idiot animal – which frankly was being a nuisance, and might well have got shot. And no. I do not expect gratitude, or even either dimwit to learn. I’ll either get the fence pegged down better or that same wallaby may end up getting shot. But sometimes, we are what we are.
Still, instincts are complex things for something so primal, and like many complex things they have lots of places to go wrong… but millions of years of evolution says they go right more often than go wrong. I suspect we’re also often measuring and judging on things we are not consciously aware of. As a writer you might say, however, that they’re of fairly low worth (except for getting me into situations that give something to write about). That’s not true, however.
I thinks it’s the whole bit about tiny subliminal cues giving you a feeling that something is just not right. And despite my gentle mockery above, I have to admit times (too often, really) when those instincts have been absolutely right: about people, about situations… and about what I am trying to write. As I said, it’s often very hard to put down a reason – at least on the spot, why something feels so wrong. It may be an irrational set of cues, totally out of synch with modern life, but good about not getting you eaten by sabertooth tigers, which I believe are rare in most modern cities. With the writing however, I believe that if something doesn’t feel right to me… it probably won’t to readers.
The problem, for the writer, is just backing off isn’t enough. Well, unless I want to never finish a book – because this happens, oh, twenty-thirty times a book for me. I have to work out the reason and fix the situation so it doesn’t set off my ‘wrong’ instinct. It’s often quite a simple thing easily fixed by just stepping back. That character would not know that. That situation could not include the water my problem-solving needed etc. These, at least in a book written on computer are easy fixes, by changing things and going back.
Sometimes I just know something is wrong. And I’m utterly stuck because I can’t see what the hell it is. Sometimes I work past this by just skipping ahead – and in getting to that I work out how to resolve the issue. And sometimes… well you have to rewrite the book. Or at least deviate wildly from where you thought you were going.
I’m busy with two books at the moment… and stuck on both. One I think I have partly solved what was bugging me (the main POV characters were far too much leaves in the wind of events, with the other characters driving the story. I’ve fixed that, and I am pleased with it, and it feels right. The only trouble is the original story-line is now stuffed and the ‘other characters’ are powerful and interesting ones – but not POV ones. The second one… I have a great story-line for the rest of the book. BUT the principal character has been a walking disaster zone (which because he is so bloody-mindedly optimistic and honest in a world as corrupt as US elections and the media coverage – the bad guys expect him to cheat and lie, as they all do, and… don’t deal well when he doesn’t) but he’s now blundered OUT of that corruption – into a situation where folk are generally a lot closer to his standard of integrity… only they think him one of the crook because he came (through as it happens, rather than from) out the corrupt city. I am still trying to work out how to balance my instinct of ‘this is wrong’ and work out what do there. The key to the character (and I can see this reflected in the current US situation) is his success is not due to his own strength, but down to the bad guys assuming everyone works like them, and would do what they would do in a given situation, or that they at least know what some rube would do… and he just doesn’t. Never do what your enemy anticipates you will. If the wallaby had not anticipated I would try to corner it, and could jump as fast as it could… It wouldn’t have got stuck and I wouldn’t have got kicked.
I’ve been through this a lot of times. And you know, the best thing I have found to resolve it is to tell others. They don’t solve it for me… but I do myself in explaining my problem to them.
So thank you for making me formalize it.
And remember, it also works for other problems you may have.