So, you are deep in a scene, and the place you’re writing in disappears. A narrow tunnel into your screen draws you into the world you’ve created – a world where your characters are engaging each other and revealing plot and personality traits that enrich your story. As happens to many writers who are ensconced in that ‘Zone’, the characters start talking to you. Or more accurately, start making up their own dialogue and taking their actions in directions you didn’t intend when you sat down to write.
Some people would say that this is a mild form of insanity, the kind which afflicts all writers, but I’ve come to believe that it’s really the M.U.S.E at work. M.U.S.E, in the non-classical sense, standing for Metaphysical Universal Story Enlightenment. I’ll explain. I’m writing a scene that takes place in a restaurant. Before I know it, my character is in the men’s room. Before I know why, someone is intentionally in the men’s room to have a conversation with him. My hero demurs – doesn’t want to have a conversation in the men’s room, and tells him to come to the office. That whole bit of dialogue winds up with the intruder giving him a dining tip of, “Try the halibut.” At the time I remember thinking, “strange thing for me to write, Halibut?”, but I wrote it.
Two weeks later, on a beach in Puerto Rico, I’m reading the really juicy tidbits of submarine cold war strategy during the mid-60’s. I’m shocked to read that the submarine I was writing about in my story, the one that I thought I had made up, actually existed. And furthermore, as I’m reading from this naval college book, the name of that sub was the, (wait for it…) Halibut! I immediately bowed and gave homage to the M.U.S.E. My supporting character, being directed by the M.U.S.E., blurted out a seemingly innocuous statement, “Try the Halibut.” , which was actually a direction to my character (and to me) to look into the USS Halibut and its clandestine operations tapping undersea phone cables in the Black Sea, thus giving America an intelligence bonanza of intercepted Soviet military signals.
I had a similar experience when I mentioned the gorilla KoKo in a book, only to, a month later randomly meet a woman on the subway who had been KoKo’s handler for years. These little serendipitous moments have become checkpoints along the way from the universe that maybe I’m going in the right direction. Ultimately, of course, the reader decides… while I muse.