Chris Karlsen on A Writer’s Instinct

A Writer’s Instinct

By Chris Karlsen

We frequently hear instinct referred to in a variety of ways—gut feeling, intuition, sixth sense, to name a few. I’m a retired police detective. In the course of my twenty-five year career in law enforcement, instinct, that gut feeling, served me well many a time. I’d say that’s true for most of the detectives I worked with. After interviewing hundreds of witnesses, victims, and suspects, you develop a sense for the truth about what you’re being told. More importantly at times, you develop a sense for what is not being said.

Now that I am able to pursue my dream of writing, I’d say gut instinct is as powerful with most of the authors I know. My critique partners and I often discuss ideas for action and/or characters in our stories. Many times the talk results from a character we weren’t going to include but is nagging us to give him or her a role. Or, it results from something in the narrative that we can’t seem to get right. For me, the perfect example involves my latest book, Golden Chariot.

I was inspired to write a story centered around my heroine, Charlotte Dashiell’s fascination with the characters from Homer’s Iliad. She has a controversial theory regarding the subject and an especially romanticized view of Hektor, a prince of Troy.

Charlotte is a nautical archaeologist working on the recovery of a shipwreck sunk off the coast of Turkey during the time of the Trojan War. The wreck may hold the proof of her theory regarding the characters and Troy.

One of my research books had a drawing of a wreck. The ship was exactly how I pictured my story wreck. There were several underwater scenes where the divers couldn’t use dialogue to communicate. Because this recovery project is so important to Charlotte, I knew I had to make the narrative description fairly dramatic.

I looked over and used several different photos as a resource for my narrative but it was that drawing I wanted the most on the page. I wrote and rewrote the scene detailing her first dive and what she saw using that ship as my inspiration. It just wouldn’t come out right. I knew in my gut something was missing. There’s a temptation to not pay attention to that instinct when we don’t know how to fix the problem, at least for me. Frustration won out for a brief time and I left the scene. I moved on with the story. But, I came back. I had to. My writer’s instinct wouldn’t let me settle for “something missing.”

I studied the drawing, really analyzed what it made me feel when I first saw it. Sad. Perched precariously on a rocky slope, done in shades of blue and green and black, shrouded in a thin veil of white where the currents churned the sand, the ancient ship looked so lonely and sad. Appearing as though it would slip into the abyss with the slightest provocation, the wreck had held on, waiting three-thousand years for someone to discover her.

That was the answer to my scene problem. My reaction became Charlotte’s. I needed to personalize the narrative. When I brought the scene in close to Charlotte, I knew instinctively I had it right. That was confirmed by the positive reactions of my critique partners and by a friend who is one of my beta readers. Charlotte’s emotional connection to the ship and how she describes her feelings to Atakan Vadim, the hero of Golden Chariot, in later scenes serves double duty. It allowed me to delve deeper into Atakan’s thoughts and response to the wreck.

We put so much of ourselves into our stories. It’s not easy to change a scene when we believe the language we’ve used is perfect, lyrical even. Lovely as those lines are, you can’t ignore that sixth sense telling you didn’t hit all the notes.

With my current work in progress, I’ve run into a situation with a character I intended to give only the tiniest of roles. Deep down, I sensed I should give him a bigger one, but I didn’t know what to do with him. I still don’t. But, I will figure it out. Instinct and my yet unnamed character refuse to be ignored. 

Myth, murder, and money clash in this gripping undersea adventure.  

The rare discovery of a ship sunk during the time of the Trojan War has been found off the coast of Turkey, near Troy. Charlotte Dashiell is an American nautical archaeologist and thrilled to be part of the recovery team. The wreck may contain proof of her highly controversial theory about the Trojan War.  

Charlotte is present when the Turkish government agent assigned to guard the site is murdered. Her possible involvement and a questionable connection to a private collector of black market relics bring her under suspicion. Atakan Vadim is the Turkish agent sent to investigate her. Unknown to either of them, the smuggler behind the murder plans to steal a valuable artifact and frame Charlotte for the theft…after they murder her.   

Shouts of “fire” came from all sides of the camp. The west wind blew sparks in the direction of the lab. They could lose the entire camp, but not the lab, not the artifacts. 

Charlotte grabbed an empty barrel from the fire line. She ran with it and started climbing the stairs to the shower stall’s water tank. A man’s large hand covered her mouth. His other hand brandished a gun. With the cold barrel to her ear, he walked her backwards down the few steps to the ground. 

“Don’t scream.” Little-by-little his palm came away from her mouth.

About the Author: 
Chris Karlsen is a retired police detective who spent twenty-five years in law enforcement with two different agencies. Her father was a history professor and her mother an avid reader. She grew up with a love of history and books. 

She has always loved traveling and has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Near East (especially Turkey and the Greek Islands), the Caribbean, and North Africa. 

Born and raised in Chicago, Chris has also lived in Paris, Los Angeles, and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four rescue dogs. 

You can contact Chris at: 

Or on Facebook

Or on her Website



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3 Responses to Chris Karlsen on A Writer’s Instinct

  1. chriskarlsen says:

    I want to thank SJ for inviting here today. I look forward to hearing reader’s thoughts on instinct and/or Golden Chariot.

  2. Dale Long says:

    Oooo… a novel that plays with the Trojan War? Awesome! I remeber reading another book, (Clive Cussler perhaps?) and being totally sucked in by the connection and realistic spin on a historical momment.
    Instinct, intuition, call it what you will, definitely has a hand in my writing. I have totally had the same experience, Chris, where the scene felt clunky and the descritions flat. It’s just like you said, I had to see past the physical. The emotional twist you used probably opened up a new way to describe it that the readers could connect to.
    I still don’t subscribe totally to the whole instinct or intuitive writing idea, but I’m glad whatever it is, is there. Great interview! I’m off to Blue Heron to find Golden Chariot.

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