Pipeline plots and dopamine

There isn’t a lot I know about writing that didn’t start from a seed or a cutting of something else someone had said. We all have our particular talents, and mine is if I hear someone say it, I do not forget it. This has gotten me through four years of university while I was writing my book instead of taking notes on the lecture itself, but I also have the brain where if something makes sense to me, I don’t need to study it, I get it the first time. Conversely, if I do not understand it the first time, it takes many, many, many hours trying to work out exactly what the issue is.

But listening to Rob Sawyer talk about writing is like a Ph.D. writing class, and he willingly just gives away everything anyone ever needs to know to make their writing and their career better. If you walk in thinking that you do not need to learn anything more than you already know then the points will fly over your head and splatter on the wall behind you, but if you listen, it makes sense. And unlike science communicators like Richard Feynman, it keeps making sense, even after the lecture stops.

Rob was explaining how humor works. How making connections between two different things and having the brain building that bridge between them creates dopamine that rewards the brain. It’s why hearing a joke and telling the joke, the first time, are just as funny. The brain rewards you for making and using a new bridge. Then, things get less funny the more you hear it because the bridge isn’t new anymore and now that you’ve learned how to use it, the reward system packs up its stuff and hangs out at only the most happening new bridges. … … he might not have phrased it that way exactly.

The same thing happens with non-humor though. I figured out about a decade ago that I did not have to know exactly what was going on. The freedom of not knowing why X happens or what Z meant was incredibly freeing because I could write anything. Either my subconscious would make a connection, and it would look like I had planted that little detail in chapter three to have it bursting with fruit in chapter 27 on purpose, or I’d cut the seedling off in the rewrite, and no one would ever have to know anything was ever there.

This is why I question books written off an outline. Making the connections that have always been there but weren’t noticed before is not something done by a conscious mind. It’s the subconscious trained to put a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces are the same color together, trying each piece with every other piece in the back of your mind while you’re doing anything. Thos connections are the most brilliant. To sit down before you even start the book and think that every decision in the book is going to be planned out ahead leaves the entire hiding in plain site connections unobtainable. Not all these connections snap into place. Sometimes you have to shave off bits of the existing writing or sometimes it completely changes the outcome, and on an outline, that ruins everything that follows completely. Yes, you can reoutline the new version, but every single time you come to a new decision, it means redoing and replanning. And yes, outliners can rewrite the whole thing with the connections after the fact, but figuring out that rewriting a book from the beginning is the best and easiest way to create a second draft isn’t something a lot of people believe. Let’s be honest.

I figured out something in shark punching last night that just curls my toes. It was there, from the very beginning that this is what the entire book was about, but until my main character went to the ship’s throne because he didn’t want to be locked up with a full chamber pot all day, everything snapped into place, and without having to go back and rewrite. This isn’t a skill that happens automatically. I figured out that you do not have to know what the point is, you just have to lay the pipe through the existing story so that when the point appears, you can use it where you need it without having to dig up the prose to lay down the new plot.

It’s a learned skill, but again, between forcing yourself to write when you don’t feel like it or teaching yourself how to want to write even when you’re not feeling it, the latter is always better. How could it not? Gym memberships are a billion dollar industry making money off the back of what people know they ought to be doing but don’t actual do.


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