By Nancy Springer
Sometime I ought to dedicate a novel to “the night shift, the pixies within me who work while I am asleep.” Or maybe I’d better not, because they might not like being recognized. As a student of folklore, I know better than to spy on my nocturnal story-cobblers. Like the shoemaker’s brownies, if disturbed they might quit in a huff. I can’t have that. I depend on them too much, although often I do not discover what they have contributed until after I have completed the hard work of structuring a narrative that makes sense.
The night shift is no good whatsoever when it comes to story logic. Cause and effect, conflict and crisis are entirely my job. But imagery, symbolism, theme, even characterization come from inner sprites I meekly trust to guide me.
Back in college, my English Literature professors warned me against the “intentional fallacy,” meaning that one must remember: what the writer consciously intends is irrelevant to literary criticism. Just because the author of a poem did not plan to use phallic imagery does not mean it isn’t there. As a student, I scratched my head over this, but now, as a professional writer, I can attest it is true: what’s in the writing often got there without any conscious permission from me.
For instance: in DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, Stephen Stoat, the antagonist, is a piece of work I cannot account for except to say that the night shift handed him over to me. I did not sketch him, plan him, or even dream him up. I have never met anyone remotely like him upon whom I could have based this neat freak weasel of a self-righteous pedophile. Everything about him and his dance of death with the protagonist issued directly from the night shift.
My dependence on the night shift accounts for my writing schedule: first thing in the morning, every morning, before the sleepy mists drifting up from my unconscious mind evaporate, I’m at my keyboard. Talking with colleagues, I’ve found that most, like me, write either early in the day, just awakened from sleep. If not, then they write last thing in the evening, slipping toward slumber. We write at the times when we and the night shift have the most unobstructed access to each other short of sleep itself. If I could write while sleeping, I would.
Actually, in a way I do. Most evenings, going to sleep, I confer with my helpful inner elves about what to write next. Additionally, sometimes I go so far as to consult them in the daytime by taking a nap. In fact, I am going to consult the night shift right now regarding how best to conclude this blog post.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . .
Nancy Springer (http://www.nancyspringer.com/) has ranged from mythic fantasy through YA to mystery in the course of her forty-year career as a novelist. Her most recent title, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, is set in the wild and swampy area of the Florida panhandle where she now lives, sharing her home with eight rescued cats and two Edgar Allan Poe awards. Springer enjoys crafting, collecting, and social networking. She invites you to visit her at https://www.facebook.com/NancySpringerNovelist?ref=hl or at https://twitter.com/NancySpringer.