I think I’ve known this for a long time, and I just didn’t want to admit it. After having it pointed out to me yet one more time, there’s no longer any denying it—when it comes to writing, my subconscious is a lot smarter than I am.
Not that there weren’t enough incidents before now. One example, in a story called “Four Horsemen, at Their Leisure,” (Tor.com April 2010) I was proceeding with a single notion—what happens to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse after the Apocalypse? Death, War, Famine, Pestilence…aren’t they out of a job? Just one of those odd musings that often turn into a story. Only, of course, that was just the idea, and an idea isn’t a story. What was the story? No (pardon the pun) idea. Then Death finds a living pine tree, in a place where absolutely nothing should be living. That was the story. Everything important, everything in the story that mattered, it all came from Death finding that one living thing. And I had absolutely no clue when I wrote the scene why Death should find a pine tree. There are a ton of other examples, but I won’t bore you with them. They all pretty much proceed from the same premise–The subconscious knew. I didn’t.
The incident that clarified this issue for me was something a little more recent—my hero has to travel from eastern Japan back to Heian-kyo (Kyoto) on a matter of some urgency. Only he isn’t going directly to Kyoto. First he’s going to travel a good distance out of his way further south to visit the Grand Shrine at Ise. Now, the Grand Shrine has been an extremely important spiritual site in Japan for hundreds of years before my hero’s time. It was not unusual for people then to be making pilgrimages there. Only my hero is not exactly religious, to put it mildly. He feels no compulsion to make a visit to the shrine to ask the gods’ favor for his coming trials. While he does believe in gods (he’s met a few) he’s not so sure about the idea of their favor. And yet he’s going to Ise. Why?
At the moment, I haven’t the vaguest idea, but that’s all right. To the extent that I have faith, that’s where it’s placed–I know my subconscious knows, and in due course, so will I.
And it’s gonna be good.