In Writing: hidden undercurrent

 

hidden undercurrent
What lies beneath
Writers’ undercurrents: in the novel you’ve just read — or in your own writing?

Sometimes it’s only after finishing a novel that you become aware of its undercurrent.  For instance, in Dead Water (Simon Ings) the fast paced plot involves the protagonist in a deadly international chase after an evil target; but the undercurrent is the dangerous potential of shipping containers which cruise the globe; an understandable preoccupation.

You may be more unaware of hidden undercurrents in your own novels.  After a while without reading your work again, consider what you’ve actually ‘said’. It may be a romance or a crime story, but what you have allowed to happen in the plot, or between the characters – such as unexpected capitulation –  or within the protagonist him/herself, can suggest unspoken drives or attitudes in your writing.

Even when there’s a distinct variety in the subject matter, authors may unconsciously repeat themes that have marked their lives.

Take two important writers Kasuo Ishiguro and Elif Safak. In 2015 they happened both to be speaking at the Bath Literary Festival, but on separate days, and were probably unlikely to have conferred. However, both authors had a ‘burying’ undercurrent in their novels.

buried
Fons Heijnsbroek

Ishiguro’s first novel for ten years, The Buried Giant, is a fantasy. Its fantastic beings form the plot but the ‘buried’ in his title refers obliquely to the human tendency for suppressing memories about painful matters. Ishiguro suggested all his novels had an underflow of this unspoken, part-forgotten material.

Talking of The Architect’s Apprentice, Shafak referred to the ‘collective amnesia’ of Turkey, saying so much has been suppressed. Sadly, historic artefacts are not being preserved perhaps because, then, uncomfortable events in history are more easily ignored; the role of the woman, the existence of minorities.

Shafak said that there is little urban memory:  residents do not know the origin of their street names, for instance, and are not encouraged to ask questions or to care about the past. She mourns the loss of cosmopolitanism in Turkey. The variety of cultures, nations, sub-groups is precious and stimulates creativity.

This strong feeling about burying discomforting events and feelings, drives these authors’ writing; the undercurrent enriches the work. What undercurrent can be detected from your writing?

A Rich Read: writers’ sudden ideas.

A SUDDEN IDEA –

ideaBoy
Deviant Art

What prompts a writer to suddenly write down an idea? Author – there’s a lot going on when you write.

When your idea appears ‘out-of-the-blue’ , more likely the germ of the idea lies in some unconscious association. Past experience affects the significance of something that appears novel, something just seen or heard or half-remembered.

Why notice say, the length of someone’s thumb, rather than their choice of tie? Subliminal exposure can influence kaleidoscopepreferences. Even patients with amnesia may show that someone/something is emotionally important to them, without remembering ever encountering these objects of their affection.

The reason for the significance of the idea is unconscious. But the emotional experience is conscious.

As a writer, you are just aware of ‘the good idea’ and the urge to write it down. But every scene, even the familiar surrounds of the working or home environment, holds a kaleidoscope of auditory, olfactory and visual stimuli.

At a party, Perry can’t relax because of the scent coming from the candles. It brings on some very uneasy feelings connected to – what? If only he could say why.   aroma

Jane focuses on a woman’s blue-grey dress. She doesn’t know why. She distorts its appearance later in a story. Long forgotten, Jane’s shouting aunt was wearing such a dress during a traumatic quarrel.

Derek, beside her, is irritated by the gestures of another guest. He can’t say why but worries away at the conundrum. He may dredge up the original stimulus.  If so, that is very satisfying. Catching the germ feels good even if the original stimulus was upsetting. It’s a feeling of getting things into place. catchingball

This unconscious layer of memory has a social and a survival function. To know the minds of others, (are they dangerous, are they to be trusted?) is useful, often vital. From our very early days we must attend to the available cues, whether in their verbal or nonverbal behaviour.  I remember saying something cheeky as a small child and peering at an adult to work out whether their mouth bore a smile or an annoyed grimace.

We unconsciously absorb tiny details that contain information about a person’s inner qualities; there is a kind of template against which new experiences can be tested over time. When a writer includes such detail it is recognised as significant by the reader. The reader may not know why but s/he also has this layer of awareness built up from infancy that alerts him or her to such clues.

Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904 A character may be softly rubbing his eyebrow as he reads. The reader enjoys noticing this detail as a guide to that character’s reaction, and ultimately, personality. It is this kind of detail that moves a piece of writing to another level, (and is often missing from plot-driven fiction). Whether it is the writer writing it, or the reader reading it, such detail makes for what we often call a ‘rich’ read.

© Copyright 2015 Rosalind Minett

The posts on this blog are the original work of Rosalind Minett. If sharing or quoting, please credit the author.