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The Magic of Mistakes

 High pressure research for The Second Path near Perigueux 
High pressure research near Perigueux


Turning Mistakes into Benefits

When an author discovers something like a continuity error in their manuscript, it’s easy to simply fix it.  But what if the mistake could be turned into an unforseen benefit?

Adding Extra Pressure

In The Second Path, Selkie Moon is in France. She has to undertake an arduous car journey on her own, driving on the opposite side of the road from what she’s used to. At the end of the stressful drive, I wrote:

I hit Perigueux in the middle of the evening peak. Again the GPS is out of its depth in the maze of narrow streets but I spy a hotel sign and pull into the parking lot of an ugly modern hotel. I’d been counting on a room above a brasserie with local food downstairs but at least there’ll be a good bathroom.

When I was rereading the manuscript I discovered this continuity error earlier:

With a hire car booked and a hotel reserved in Perigueux

Oops. Selkie had already booked a hotel. I removed the phrase about pre-booking to match with the later paragraph, then wondered: It’s essential that Selkie is under pressure here. Would it put her under more pressure if she’d already booked accommodation but then couldn’t find it?

The new paragraph reads:

I hit Perigueux in the middle of the evening peak. Again the GPS is out of its depth in the maze of narrow streets but I see a sign, pull into the parking lot of a hotel and burst into tears. I’ve already paid for a room above a brasserie and was looking forward to some local food and ambience downstairs. But finding it will be impossible. I stare at the modern ugliness of the hotel I’ve chanced upon. Ugly and expensive. At least there’ll be a good bathroom.

Without the mistake, I would not have thought to add this extra pressure.

Forgetting the Missing Dress

Turning mistakes into benefits prepared me for a much bigger error in the very last chapter of The Second Path. Last chapters of psychological mystery/thrillers are often the hardest to write because they’re so crucial – all the themes must come together in a way that’s both dramatic and satisfying. Without any glaring loose ends.

I’d written many drafts of the ending until I thought it was finished. All the themes had come together and I was happy with it – except I hadn’t noticed that one crucial thread was missing. In Chapter One, Selkie wakes on a beach, naked and confused, and discovers she’s lost her little black dress – a dress that’s very special to her. The dress features throughout the book but the reason she lost it needs to be revealed in the last chapter and I forgot! The ending I’d written was “perfect” except the thread about the dress wasn’t there. Ugh.

Typical of the way I create my books, I actually didn’t know why Selkie had lost the dress. Time to dig deep. I spent a restless night hoping the answer would “pop” and it did. Phew. My sleeping mind latched onto a concept in an earlier scene – something psychological that I’d written without the dress in mind at all – but suddenly the earlier concept provided the answer to the missing dress. No spoilers but it’s added a whole extra layer of depth to the ending, depth that wouldn’t have been there if I’d remembered to include the dress in the original draft. I needed the pressure of the mistake to “pop” this elegant solution.