Near 500 words: Enough Is Never Enough

With Jesus, every day was a great day for the Disciples, and always filled with surprises. One day it was miracles, the next blesseds, healings on a third day. And no one could take on the establishment the way Jesus did.

Each day there was a story, and not just one story but story after story after story. The Disciples weren’t sure what a lot of them meant, but the they were excited to hang with Him 24/7.

Things Jesus did were so awesome that Judas wanted to make Him the main attraction of a new theme park. “When we go public, our IPO will be worth billions of denarii.”

Jesus shook his head and laughed. “You poor fellow.” Then He went on His way, the Disciples struggling to keep up.

And talk about cool. Casting out demons was really bad ass. Even the priests were afraid to take on the devil and his minions.

One day–it was a Wednesday I believe–Jesus was teaching away to what most of the Disciples thought of as a multitude. Actually it was five-thousand-and-seventeen men, women and children. We know the exact number because Judas Iscariot was selling tickets.

About three p.m. Jerusalem Standard Time, Jesus was right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. Peter sneaked up to Jesus’ ear and whispered, “The folks are famished.”

The Master whispered back at Peter, “Aren’t you listening?”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t I just say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’?”

Peter was trembling in fear for what Jesus might do to him for being a bearer of bad news. Peter had seen the Lord in the Temple. Man, he’d never seen anyone throw a table the way the Master did. And He barely missed the High Priest. But Peter had gotten this far. He might as well go on. “We ran out of all the baked goods this morning. And all we’ve got is five loaves and two fishes.”

Now there wasn’t a Macdonald’s or a Chick-fil-A to cater the event. So it was going to be up to Jesus to do the catering. The Lord smiled and said, “All right. Bring them here.”

And right there Jesus took care of things. “Have the people form two lines.” And those were some awesome fish sandwiches. Everybody stuffed themselves.

Peter approached the Lord and said, “Where’s the mayonnaise?”

Jesus was the most patient of men. He’d put up with a lot from the Disciples and now this. Jesus gave Peter the kind of look you didn’t want to get from Jesus. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” He said.

As Peter stumbled away, Jesus said under His breath, “Next thing you know they’ll want Me to turn water into wine.”

And so they did.

The great thing about writing stories…

…is that I get to be all the characters. The hero who does such nice things and saves the world. (I’ve always wanted to save the world and get credit for it.) The villain. (I can be as nasty as I damned-well please. It is such a great emotional release. Helps me get rid of the garbage in my life.) The sexy femme fatale. (Gives me a chance to explore the feminine side of my personality.) The gracious sidekick. (I get to be a little bit gracious and that always makes me feel good.)

No matter the story, I am in there taking punches, giving punches and having a grand old time. When someone walks up to me and says that they have a story I should write, I try to tell them that they should come on in, the water’s fine. But they insist they have no gift. Well, I am not interested in exploring anybody else’s dirty laundry. I have plenty of my own and all filled with wonderful characters that I can be.

All I have to do is sit down at a table in an imaginary restaurant and say, “Hey.”

“Hey,” says the dark-haired lady across from me, sipping red wine.

“So you need me to find your husband?”

“Yes, but don’t make it too fast. I’m having too much fun with his money for now. Sometime in a month or so will be just fine with me.”

“You didn’t murder your husband, did you? I’d hate to go off on a wild goose chase.” Of course, if I know this kind of story, I will be on a wild goose chase before you can toss a coin and call it heads or tails.

“No, I didn’t. I would have liked to. But he’s worth more to me alive than dead.”

And there you have it. I have quickly become two characters in a poorly lit restaurant, discussing murder. Where would I have that opportunity otherwise?

Writer’s Block?

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. –Jorge Luis Borges.

It’s a real beach, that devil of a writer’s block. A real hot beach. I can’t go for a swim to get the sand out of my drawers and cool down. There are sharks in the ocean. Jelly fish scattered around me. Those darn jellies and their sting stop me. There is no way off this beach and out of the sun. I’d say that sums up my version of writer’s block. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

Instead of a beach, it might be a snow storm. Or out on a desert dune and no oasis. Or stuck in an elevator that won’t go up or down. There isn’t an easy out. It’s always a beach when a work-in-progress falls on my head.

The characters, especially Miss Main, are not letting me in on their inner lives and their secrets. In one way or another, characters I’ve befriended, fallen in love with, have shut down my story.They are leaving the party with no explanation. All the struggle in the world won’t get them back to the Yellow Brick Road and on their way to the Emerald City. No amount of alchemy will return Dorothy to Kansas. You see, it’s not their story.

So how do I get myself off the beach? Through the snow storm? How can I find that oasis? Certainly not by gritting my teeth and grunting my way forward. Those jelly stings hurt like hell and I am not fond of shark bite.

Of course, I could take a helicopter lift off the beach and be done with the whole damned mess. But abandoning Story is not an option. If I abandon her, she dies, never to live again. No other creator can breathe life back into her.

The only way off this beach of writer’s block is to let go. To trust Story, when she is ready, to reach for my hand, to squeeze it softly, then lead me out of the darkness and into the sunshine. Trusting Story means I have to sit myself down and write first draft crap. Complete garbage though it is, this is only the Lewis and Clark part of the journey. Laying down a beautiful, scenic highway comes later.

Does this work every time? Does this work for every writer? I’ve lost enough stories to know that the answer is probably no. All I can do is try and write that first draft crap. Once that draft is done, there’ll be another and another until a final, polished manuscript is ready for the world. If I don’t do this, I will have the death of more stories on my conscience. Then I have failed not only my stories. I have failed myself.

So what do I do to get back on track with Story.

Pre-writing Exercises

I have a couple of morning exercises I practice.I am not always able to do them, but I do try. Been doing them a couple of years. I wake up thirty minutes before my day begins. I make myself a cup of coffee. Then I sit myself down, draw a card from my tarot deck or randomly choose a hexagram from the I Ching or open up a book of photographs or paintings. The chosen image is a prompt. Inspired by this image, I free write 50-250 words of a scene, a reflection, a short essay or a prose poem.

Next comes a Copy Exercise. I copy 250 words or so from the work of a writer I admire. It might be a short story, the chapter of a novel, or an essay. Once I complete that work, I try a different writer. Over the past two years, I have copied Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Alice Munro, Yasunari Kawabata, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and P. D. James. In case you wonder why the rotating writers. It’s so I won’t start imitating one writer or another.

Both these exercises loosen my mind and get my subconscious going. They let it know that I am available. As a bonus, the prompt exercise occasionally gives me a blog post.

Some Suggested Techniques

Creating can be scary and hard. Often our subconscious will prevent us from going boldly where no writer has gone before. Over the years I’ve used a number of techniques that have helped.

QUIT TRYING TO MAKE PERFECT: Give yourself a break. You are human. Nobody gets it right the first draft. That novel, story or blog post you admire so much may have taken the author twenty, thirty, forty drafts before it was ready for primetime.

MOST OF ALL: To get the imagination going, simply to Be Available.

FREE WRITE: Free write for five minutes as fast as you can, beginning with the sentence: I am afraid to write this story because…

THE FRIEND: If you are writing a novel or short story, think of your Main Character as a Friend you are getting to know well. Ask yourself what it would take for you to abandon a friend. Has this occurred with MC?

THE HEMINGWAY: Hemingway stopped in mid-sentence at the end of a day’s writing session. The next writing session he picked up that the sentence where he laid it down and wrote his five hundred words for that day.

PROMPTS: For each of my three nanowrimos, I used a visual prompt for each day’s work. I pulled up my day’s image, then asked how the image related to my characters and their story. It gets funny when my characters reside in Bithlo, Florida, and the picture is of the Eiffel Tower or New York City. Sometimes I have to stretch but it’s okay. The wine on their table was produced in France.

THE ELMORE LEONARD: Get the characters talking. Elmore Leonard once said, that when a character quit talking, he killed them off. I find murdering a character a little extreme. Then you have bad character karma and that is a real beach. Who wants that? Sending them to bed without supper can wake them up to sunny side.

CHANGE CHARACTERS: Write a scene from a minor character’s point of view. I once wrote a story about a contract killer. Before he fulfilled a contract, he got a manicure. So I wrote a scene from the manicurist’s point of view. Without knowing anything about him, I wanted to know how she saw him?

CHANGE PLOTS: Write some scenes that are not in your story. Take your Main Character grocery shopping. What kinds of food does she like? Does she move through the store slowly or briskly? Does she have conversations with the other shoppers, or with the store employees?

DATE A CHARACTER: Take one of your characters on a date. Where would the two of you go? What would you talk about?

INTERVIEW YOUR CHARACTERS: Ask a friend to portray a character in your story and not just the hero or villain. Give them a profile of the character. Make a list of ten open-ended questions for the character to answer. Then interview them. Pretend you are Jimmy Fallon. Or interview the character for a major character role in your story.

THE LAST SCENE: Write the Last Scene. It should mirror your First Scene. If the First Scene begins on a trip in a car, your final scene might have MC in a car. Once you have written your final paragraph, you now have a destination for your story.

LIST 10 THINGS: Return to your First Scene. List ten things in that scene, such as: a bridge, a man with a cane, a duck, a river, a bulldozer, a pebble in a shoe, a dead tree, rain clouds, a dollar bill and a pair of spectacles. Now choose a character other than your Main Character. Write a scene including that character and one of the ten things.

THE WEEKEND NOVELIST: Over the years I have read hundreds of books on writing. Blessed is the one who picks one writing book and sticks with it. If I had to choose just one, it would be Robert Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist”. The first edition is best but the more recent edition will do. It is designed for non-professional writers with a forty hour work week. Setting aside several hours each weekend to work through the exercises in the book, the novelist will have a polished novel in one year.

TAKE A BREAK AND FIND THINGS THAT INSPIRE YOU: Sometimes we run out of gas just like our cars. Find things that inspire you and help you rediscover that inner creative. It can be a movie or reading a scene in a book or a piece of music. I have a friend who wrote her first published novel to the sound of Dave Matthews.

These are not hard and fast rules. They are guidelines. Each writer has to discover the process that works best for them. The important thing is to keep writing. Remember a day without writing is still a day without writing.

Short Story Wednesday: A Story As Old As the World

Short Story Prompt: “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell

“I am the man who killed your son,” said the early balding man in a dark blue suit and tie to the woman behind the screen door.

“Dead?” she said without thinking. Then the woman’s face went as pale as the ghost of her dead son who was haunting the man. Then she said, “You?”

The woman turned away from him and back into the house, closing the door behind her.

In his hotel room, the ghost of her son confronted him. “Did you tell her?” The ghost could see that he had not told the woman the circumstances of his death. “You must tell my mother,” the ghost urged.

The next morning the man set off to the woman’s house, each step heavier than the last, like he was a man plodding forward to the gallows for a crime he did not commit. Unlike that innocent man, he had done the deed. He had killed the woman’s son. And now the son’s ghost was haunting him. He couldn’t get the ghost off his back until he told the dead man’s mother how he had been killed.

He came to the house with the white picket fence. He walked through the gate and up onto the porch, straightened his tie and made a loud knock. “Go away,” came the words from inside the house.

So he went away, head bowed, and returned to his hotel room, and to the ghost. The ghost could see that his mother had once again rejected the man.

“Look, I tried to tell her,” the man pleaded. “You have to give me credit for trying.”

“Trying isn’t good enough,” the ghost said.

“She won’t listen. I could force her but I am not going to do that.”

“It’s the only way,” the ghost said, “for you to get off the hook. Now get over there and tell her. Otherwise you’ll never be rid of me.”

“But…”

“Don’t but me. If you don’t want me to continue to haunt you, then you have to tell her what happened. Otherwise she will continue to blame you for my death, and I can’t have that.”

The man looked over at the gray ghost. “I wish you hadn’t started the whole thing. You’d be alive today if you hadn’t. And I wouldn’t be on the hook to tell her the circumstances of your death so I can get you off my back.”

“It was all a game. Then you had to go and kill me.”

“But it was in self-defense.”

“Are you sure?” the ghost wanted to know.

“Yes, I’m sure. And I seem to remember that you said it was the most dangerous game.”

“I was just kidding,” the ghost said. “And you couldn’t take the joke.”

“Oh, you weren’t kidding. Chasing me with that gun and those dogs.”

“And you had to kill my lead dog too,” the ghost said. “What kind of man are you, killing an animal like that?”

“He was going to tear me apart. And you would have let him too. I had no choice. It may not have been a dangerous game when you started but it sure got that way.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be that dangerous,” the ghost said. “I was so relieved when you jumped into the sea. I thought you’d actually escaped. But no, you had to come back and do me in. Now I am being punished because you screwed up and killed me. For no good reason too. You’d escaped.”

“Oh, I had good reason.” The man glared at the ghost. “Your death has made our mother sad. My mother will no longer speak to me. She sees in me nothing but a stranger, a wanderer, a murderer.”

There was a knock on the hotel door. It was insistent that it be answered. The man got out of his chair and opened the door. A handsome young man in his early twenties pushed his way into the room. “May I come in?” he said.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

The young man answered, “I’m the man who is here to tell you to leave my mother alone. She can’t take it. And if you don’t, I will make you.”

The man said, “I have no choice but to speak to her and explain.”

“Why do you have no choice?” There was anger in the young man’s voice.

The man pointed at the ghost. “Doofus over here insists.”

“Don’t call me Doofus,” the ghost said. “You know how much I hate that, Cain.”

The man laughed. “Well, you are a doofus, Abel.”

“Wh-wh-what?” they young man asked. Exasperated.

“Well,” the man said, “you’re not going to believe this. I can’t ditch this guy until I tell our mother the story of how he died. I know she won’t believe me but he insists.”

“And I cannot escape roaming the earth and haunting my brother until Mom knows that it wasn’t his fault. I got the order from Dad and the Man Upstairs. Oh, and Dad says to tell you hello. He’s sorry he had to leave so early in your life, Seth. It couldn’t be avoided. Some nimrod wanted to build a Tower on a little piece of property Dad had been saving up for his retirement. The nimrod even had the gumption to call it Babel. The darn thing fell on Dad.”

Seth could not believe his ears. He dropped into a chair, shook his head and said, “Mom lied to me. She told me I was an only child. Now I find out I’ve got two brothers.”

“Just like Mom,” the ghost said.

“Yep,” Cain said. “And she lied to Dad about that apple too. Can you believe that she called it a lollipop?”

“And Dad believed her,” Abel the Ghost said. “If he’d only gotten glasses, he would have been able to tell an apple from a lollipop.”

“By the way, Bro,” Cain asked Abel, “is he still as blind as he used to be?”

“Blind as a bat,” Abel said.