I just attended LTUE 2014 (Life, the Universe, and Everything), a science fiction conference where the keynote speaker was Orson Scott Card.
Card detailed some interesting things about the recent Ender’s Game movie and some upcoming adaptations of the story, which is a favorite of mine.
The Subconscious Origins of a Character
What impressed me most about his keynote address was his recent realization that the unusually low-key leadership style which his character Ender exhibits was a product of Card’s own experiences as a young teenager frustrated with how local church leadership sometimes functions.
I find the writing takeaway an interesting one. Card mentioned that he did not sit down and say, “In this novel, I’m going to vent my adolescent and adult qualms about leadership.” Only later did Card connect it all consciously.
As a Creative You’re Probably Doing This, Too
In the novel I’m working on right now, I’ve very consciously addressed certain issues that have affected me. But I’ve been surprised at some of the subplots and details that, upon reflection, arose even more organically. Only looking back do I see they have a direct link to my own experiences.
A lot of us know that creativity seems to naturally connect us with subconscious motivations but maybe even in ways we don’t realize right off. If we look back at our work like Card did, what might we see?
An Example: My Cave-Dwelling Beatrice
One example in the novel I am working on now is that my character lives in a cave. I chose this for her because I like to write characters who are more brave than me. I wouldn’t go live in a cave, not because it wouldn’t be interesting but because I lack the guts! I thought I was choosing it for that reason.
But what was my subconscious thinking? Looking back, I think that more subtle part of my mind chose the cave because of other traits I relate to from my adolescence, namely, being at times a reclusive oddball. I think my subconscious let me think I was writing about a gutsy cave lady, when really this woman needed to be a recluse in order for my story’s theme to really shine.
I see that now, but it was an accident. I never consciously made that connection.
Getting Better at Validating Our Subconscious
I never would have written my character as a recluse to start with. Maybe the subconscious has to be all tricksy because some the best we have to offer is hidden behind our own judgment. On some level, I don’t approve of being reclusive, at least not for myself. I didn’t like the things that kept out of my life. So why would I want to write a character like that?!
My subconscious had to trick me into it. That part of knew that I have a pretty good understanding of being reclusive.
My current takeaway is to trust your first image of details or story lines. Invest some time in them and develop them. It may be your subconscious trying to add some cool layers while you’re not looking!