Mornings have a simple routine, get up, check the animals, have breakfast, except for winter when breakfast happens first whilst we wait for daylight. That’s most mornings. Some time back now, I had one of the specials where I needed to be somewhere, on time, clean and presentable. That meant add in getting showered, finding clothes with no significant animal debris on them, and packing in lots of extra jobs that couldn’t wait until after I got back.
The clean clothes were already set out. All I had to do was shower, cook breakfast, get clothes off the rack beyond my partner’s desk, check weather forecast, nice legs, stroke cat…
Wait. Nice legs? Where did that come from?
Back up. Literally. It was something that caught my eye on the desk – a piece of junk mail waiting for the decision: recycle immediately, use as fire-lighter, use as litter-tray liner. In the semi dark, some unquiet corner of my mind that still remembers its testosterone-addled youth picked out a dim photo, and nice legs. It took some staring at the desk to put the pieces together.
The thing is, this was just a passing glance. All that background stuff in my head, at the subconscious level, picked out a particular detail – part of the activity we mostly don’t notice. The same stuff that gets your foot shifting to the brake before you can consciously paraphrase the Bard – is that a pedestrian I see before me? – or keeps your fingers out of the way of the knife so that supper remains the vegetarian option. We spend so much of our time not actually noticing all the stuff we notice, that it comes as a surprise when circumstances make us actually notice it.
The people who do the adverts in the junk mail know it too, even if they don’t know they know it. That picture, on close inspection, was an ordinary young couple walking down an ordinary street. When I pick it up and look at it now, my head doesn’t instantly say ‘hey, nice legs’, except as an echo of earlier surprise, instead it explores things like do we want another credit card? No. Not even with really competitive rates and easy balance transfer? Er, no. Mostly my head says, is this paper too shiny for the litter tray? But somewhere, in the background, that bit of my mind is probably still chuntering – nice legs, see, told you so. So even though I don’t want the credit card, and surely wouldn’t be swayed by the nice legs, some bit of me noticed, and there’s no telling how insidiously it might be nagging the rest.
Now here’s a thing – I am currently ploughing through a manuscript, doing final edits and proofing, with a view to publishing it in the coming month – and there’s a minuscule theme of nice legs running through the story. My thief is chasing a rich-girl, because she’s made off with the trinket he was stealing, and his thoughts encompass nice legs and good legs for running. Is this just random chance, or did the Tiny Plot Detail department in my subconscious have this thing lying around and spot an opportunity to use it?
So not only did I notice a tiny detail in passing, I’ve now noticed that I seem to have folded that into a story. It makes me wonder how many tiny details slip into my writing without me even noticing where they come from.
Hmmm… this reminds me, I must tell my partner I’ve just noticed there’s some junk mail needs processing. Nice fire-lighter.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS ) – and is working on a third.
He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.
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