I recently watched a show in which they monitored the brain centers of rats while they were running a maze and then again while they were dreaming. It turns out that the rats were replaying the maze in their sleep, using background processes, as it were, to solve the puzzle. Some rats were kept from dreaming and others were not. The group that was allowed to dream unfailingly scored better on the maze during their next run than those who didn’t.
A couple of weeks ago, I woke with a full understanding of the novel I’ve been working on. Before that day, it had been a blank canvas on which I had been experimenting with various colors and lines. Afterward, it was a paint by number kit. I woke knowing more about my characters and their interactions than I had for the past half-year since I began this first draft. More importantly, I now know the plot in its entirety. I know where it’s going, the things that have to be changed to retcon the story to fit the plot, and the steps that have to be taken to reach the end.
I started this draft last spring with a terrible vision of two children standing in the debris field left by a tornado that had wiped out their whole town. In fits and starts, I began to put together a story that grew from that moment and moved toward some unknown end. I laid in the character traits, the interactions, the points of conflict, a general, overall structure, but I never knew where it was going. I wasn’t even sure who among the characters were pro- and antagonists.
It took a combination of writing pages that I knew would be deleted and my background processes poring over the details in my sleep to get me to that point where I knew for sure that I will get to the end of the story. It doesn’t always happen and that’s one of the pitfalls of not being an outline maker. Relying on your muse, for lack of a better word, is sort of like a gambler relying on luck. You can place your bets to the best of your ability but you never know when that lady is going to blow on someone else’s dice (to paraphrase the Chairman).
Trust me on this, I have a dozen unfinished novels that never received the benefit of a visit from the plot fairy.
Anyway, I’m now in a race to get it all down on paper. That’s why I haven’t posted in awhile and why I won’t be posting much for the short term. When I get this draft finished and have tucked it away in a drawer for the flavors to marry, I will have more of my mind to use for other things.