It's so satisfying, as a reader, to trundle through a world and recognize the hallmarks of a driven character! The genesis of Nero Wolfe's neuroses may be unclear, but in any of his stories, we know just when he's going to get all crazy about a dame being in his house, or outraged that some food is cooked wrong, or so exasperated by Archie's general good cheer that his head starts to explode, and we are delighted. Rex Stout constructed stories so that the exact nature of Wolfe's response was always a surprise, and therefore a delight, even as the inevitability of some response was a given.
But in real life, things are seldom so clear. It's only the distance of decades and the uncanny incisiveness of my life's partner that has given me Clue One about my own drives.
For example, my first novel, an adventure set in 12th century Mongolia, demanded some research. Turns out the place most like Mongolia in the world aside from Mongolia is the dead center of Montana.
[Funny fact that I could never use: our Wild West tumbleweed originated in Mongolia.]
Can you guess which is Mongolia, and which Montana?
A flight to Montana was ten times cheaper than the flight to Mongolia, and did not involve passports or the Chinese government. The original no-brainer.
My husband, who had lived in Missoula, grabbed me by both shoulders and looked deep into my eyes and said, "Promise me you'll stay on the paved road."
I thought he'd lost his mind. I grew up California, and I always stayed on the paved road. Because the unpaved road is usually rutted, dirt, and guaranteed to puncture your tire sooner or later. There's always a paved road.
So I lightly, thoughtlessly promised him and flew out to Billings, and took my rented car north and east, toward the Lewis and Clark National forest. In my experience, national parks are big, well-staffed, welcoming places that never close (because the weather is good!). 90% of the state is open 24/7.
Portions of Montana the size of the Los Angeles basin are closed for the winter. Until May! And Lewis & Clark was a forest, not a park. If only I'd noticed that!
Much to my surprise, the road to Lewis & Clark stopped being paved about half way there. I was driven to keep going--only I didn't realize I was driven.
I saw giant trucks transporting cows on this unpaved road. Didn't even think about the promise I'd made less than 24 hours before. When I got lost (how does a person get lost on perfectly flat land?) and a trucker had to help me figure out where I was going, I should have turned back. Remembered my sidekick's warning. But no, I was doing the most logical thing on earth, research for my story.
I got to the back side of the national park, and a sign that says it's closed. But, my crazy-on-overdrive brain tells me, that must mean it's lightly staffed. Because national parks don't close close. The road in looked practically vertical, but there was no snow. Silly sissy Montanans.
I kept going up the road, and noticed a little snow. Ah, felt the cold air, and began collecting sense memories for my story. Totally failed to notice that the snow was getting thicker, and in places where trees blocked the sun, it was clumped up and icy. Failed to notice until my car got stuck on a huge hunk of ice in the middle of the deeply rutted dirt track.
Then and only then did I remember my promise. And that I had no cell phone.
I'll spare you the petty details of my futile efforts to get off that ice-hunk. Flash forward to a near hypothermic Mysti, mud spattered from attempts to jam wood under the tires and rock that car out of its wedge, taking a breather, and absently staring at a clean little .22 calibre rifle shell laying near the car.
Hunters. Would one save me, or shoot me? I jumped in the car, hoping the cheap economy rental would deflect any errant bullets. Thoughts of disaster haunted me as I honked the horn in what I thought might be an S.O.S. signal every few minutes. In the moments between honking, I remembered that I'd never told anyone at the hotel where I was going. No one was even going to know where to look for me, because everyone else in the state had the good sense to stay away from a closed national park.
Then I wondered what the hunters were hunting.
And the image of a giant bear, peeling back my car's roof like it was a tin can drove me into action. I could not spend the night, or a few days, waiting for rescue. I had to get off that forsaken piece of ice now!
Then by sheer luck (or perhaps my subconscious just got sick of how stupid I was that day), I thought of the poor fool who had lit half a county on fire because he'd pulled off the side of the road and idled his engine until the grass caught fire. Surely an engine could melt the snow I was stuck on?!
So I rev'd that engine for all it was worth, long minutes that no doubt restored the battery from all the honking even as it shaved years off the life of the pistons. A little Drive-Neutral-Reverse repetitions and sure enough, I was off the ice and headed for the front of the national park. There was no way to turn around and go back.
In my emotional memory, the crazy cliff-hugging drive out of the park fails at one corner, and I die. It's the darndest thing. Obviously I made it home. But the real actual eye-to-eye stare of Death does profoundly change you, and somehow the acceptance I achieved translated into a false memory of the fate I deserved, not the one that was given so graciously to me.
I'm happy to report that since that episode, I really do stay on paved roads. I'm still driven to take risks, but they are not so bad--trying my hand at writing, accepting the riskier assignments at work, that kind of thing. Not exactly in neutral, but not flirting with Death quite so heavily either. Much to the relief of my kind and patient husband, the Nick to my Nora.
Tell me, what are you driven to do, driven beyond all sense and explanation?