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Hindsight is not such a wonderful thing

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The back story…

Last week, on Friday, I had a nightmare time getting to work. Due to massive problems on the trains much of my journey was replaced by coach travel basically doubling my journey time. So two trains, a coach and a three mile walk later I finally arrived at work. The problems continued throughout my shift. I kept an eye on the situation via different websites, and it seemed likely that I’d suffer from the same problem on returning home. I had no idea if the trains would resume in time, nor if they would get me home at an appropriate hour – I easily could be stranded at train stations waiting for other trains/coaches to get me home. Now my parents live closer to work than I do. So I thought the easier option would be to go to their house for the night if the situation seemed not to improve. So that’s what I did.

But silly me, later on in the evening I checked the train I normally would have caught and low and behold it ran – albeit several minutes late. So I would have got home ok.

With hindsight I would have been fine on my journey home. But that’s not the decision I made. And the decision I made was with the information I had at the time. My train was at 18:21 but didn’t set off from it’s primary location until 17:48 which would have been far too late for me to make a decision and get down to the station on time if I knew it would run (normally I’m on my bicycle so making the journey easier – I left my bike at home knowing that there would be a real risk that I would be on a replacement coach.

Anyway…so in this case hindsight was not such a wonderful thing.

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It got me thinking…

As a writer planning a lot of your novel, knowing some, most or all of your outcomes (depending on what writer you are) you already know with hindsight what is going to happen to your characters. But your characters don’t. They haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen to them, what decisions they make no matter how minor, or how they will react to a developing situation. Of course as a writer it is helpful to know what the outcome of a decision or situation will be but you must close your mind from that and put yourself completely in your characters shoes. Feel and think what they will before the ‘benefit’ of hindsight gets in the way.

You’ll often have heard sayings like having the benefit of ’20:20 hindsight’ – how has this affected you? Like me with my train problems I was irritated when I discovered that I would have got home fine. But it can’t affect your decision making process – nor the decision making process of your characters – because you don’t know it yet. You have to base your decisions on the information and gut feelings that you have at the time. Your characters must do the same. It’s probably something you do fairly naturally. I hope I do. You may naturally already put yourself in their shoes and try to gauge their reactions and decisions but after my “lightning bolt” of hindsight I’ll think about it a bit more.

The benefit of hindsight may not always be a wonderful thing when it comes to writing.

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