I was catching up on my New Yorker reading this morning (work has been so crazy I'm even behind on The New Yorker, which never happens), and I came across this article on insight. It's a good article, and you should totally read it*, but the part that interested me particularly this morning was when it talked about how scientists and mathemeticians described insights and how they happened for them. Basically, they all said "you can't force insight."
(You can't force insight and you can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. Just trust...sorry.)
I think maybe this is what I meant when, a long long time ago, I said I don't get writer's block. I don't. That doesn't mean that I don't go through periods when the writing is not working, or when I'm stumped about how to do things, but I don't get "blocked." I just wait.
Anyway, the reason why I'm writing this is not just to give you a book report on The New Yorker (short version: AWESOME), but because I recently had an insight about The Book that followed this exact sort of pattern.
See, near the beginning of The Book, main character S, a new girl in school, starts hanging out with other main character G, a popular jock. Of course, this raises the hackles of popular cheerleader girl A, who used to go out with G, but broke up with him a couple of months earlier. (Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away in terms of plot--this stuff is sooo background.) Anyway, at one point, A catches S alone and says all this cryptic stuff about how G is weird and S should totally not get involved with him. S interprets this (rightly so) as A's jealousy about someone else hooking up with her (totally hot) ex-boyfriend. But the other day, while I was waiting for my LSAT students to show up, I got to thinking about that scene.
I think I wrote a post recently (oh, here it is!) about how every character is the star of his or her own movie, and the thought that came to me the other day was "why would A do that? Why would she go up to S and try to dissuade her?" Jealousy makes sense, of course, but A broke up with G, not the other way around. So what would make a girl like A break up with a guy like G, but still really like him and still be jealous of him going out with another girl? A is a Queen Bee--she's not threatened by other girls generally. And if she dumped G, she wouldn't be jealous of other girls having him, unless...
And then I had it, all in an instant, a complete scene detailing what A had seen that led her to break up with G, and how it made her feel, and why, besides jealousy, she would take the time out of her day to talk to S and say "look, G is odd. Look out."
Now, again, is this scene central to the plot? Nope. It's not even going to appear in The Book, which is all from S's point of view. But it matters, because now I know why A did this, which makes her a more three dimensional character, which affects the way I write the (three) scenes she has in the book. She's not a plot device. She's not a contrivance. She's a character, with her own unique motivations. She's the star of her own show.
But, and this is the weird part, she wasn't a problem or anything. A's been in The Book from early on, and the scene where she talks to S has always been there, chalked up to jealousy and nothing more. And that wasn't an issue. But for some reason my brain said "hey, Jay, I've been thinking and I think this about A," and the "this"? Is super cool. I'm totally going to write that scene, you know, in my spare time. :)
To sum up:
1. Read The New Yorker.
2. Have insights.
*You should totally read most of the articles in The New Yorker--it is consistently one of the best-written magazines in the world. I skip the poetry though. And sometimes the political stuff. Does that make me a bad person?