Plugging the Holes

My son likes to watch a YouTube channel called How It Should Have Ended (HISHE). He likes to watch the remakes of his favorite Marvel movies. One of his favorite videos is the remake of Spider-man 3. He loves it when Bernard finally tells Harry that Norman killed himself. Harry fires him for not telling him the truth sooner. Many stories and movies have holes like these. If Bernard had told Harry at the end of the first Spider-man movie that Norman had killed himself, then what would happen in Spider-man 2 and 3? Harry wouldn’t make a deal with Doc Ock to bring him Spider-man and he wouldn’t need to attack Peter in Spider-man 3. Without those holes, the trilogy would become a stand-alone movie. Or would it? Maybe, the writers could have taken the Spider-man series in a totally new direction. Who knows what they would have come up with?

What if writers actually worked harder to plug those holes? Would the stories they came up with be deeper and more satisfying? In the plan of the novel I am currently working on, I decided that one of the main characters would be kidnapped. I didn’t want the protagonist to find this character too quickly, but I also wanted the kidnapper to use the victim’s phone to call the protagonist. In my original plan, it would take the protagonist too long to find the cell phone using cell phone towers. I discovered, however, that the police can find the location of a cell phone pretty quickly. Since the protagonist in my novel was not only the sheriff but also the account holder of the cell phone, she would be able to track the kidnapper even faster. How could I plug this hole? I could have the kidnapper, a devious serial killer, be too dumb to know that the sheriff could track the cell phone in a matter of hours. That led to a new hole. If the kidnapper is also a devious serial killer who has never been caught, how could he not know how long it took for the police to track a cell phone? In the end, I decided to plug this hole by having the kidnapper use the cell phone to lead the Sheriff and her deputies to his latest crime scene. Because the kidnapper no longer had the cell phone, the sheriff could no longer track him and the victim. Her problem became a lot more difficult to solve.

Writers might want to take their work in a particular direction that requires certain plot holes to remain in their stories. They might think that the direction they have chosen is the best way to go, but what if the hole, itself, is a warning that a story needs to change? When I plugged up my plot hole, the danger to my victim ratcheted up a notch and even led him to do something he didn’t think he would ever do. My story took a completely different direction. The plot hole in a story might exist, because the line of the story is flawed. By avoiding the plot hole, the story line can be strengthened.

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Prodigal Son: Chapter 1

Elijah sat back and stared at the computer screen. Flexing his aching hands, he read the words he had typed, “extra set of hands for hire.” Three long years it had taken him to get to this point—to be able to read, to be able to write, to be able to use his hands. Madison said he didn’t have to work, but he knew she and Hal were having a hard time making ends meet with all his medical bills and the new baby coming. Whenever Madison convinced Hal to talk to him about working, Hal would pat him on the shoulder. His grey eyes that could be cold like a killer’s would get a warm twinkle, and he’d say, “Just make sure you keep up with your school work, son.”

He had a lot to keep up with. He had never gone to school when he was younger like most kids. He’d never even thought about school until he’d met Madison and Hal. His father had never…

He stopped that thought. He didn’t like to think about his father even though Dr. Ross said he needed to start facing some of the bad memories. She said they would haunt him forever until he learned to face them, until he realized he wasn’t responsible for the things his father had done.

Shaking his head, he focused on his Craigs list ad. He hoped someone would see his ad soon.

A couple of days after posting his ad, someone finally called him. A little old lady who needed some yard work done. He pulled up to the house on Emerson Street. The lady lived a couple of blocks from Washington Park. Unlike a lot of houses in the neighborhood, her house was really run down. The brown paint was peeling on the trim and one of her shutters hung askew. If you asked him, she needed a lot more than yard work. The yard was in pretty bad shape, too. The grass was at least a foot high, and the bushes in the yard were overgrown. Looking at the crumpled piece of paper in his had, he hoped he’d written down the address right. He was picturing a little lawn-mowing or maybe raking the leaves. He hadn’t pictured something like this. Slowly, he climbed out of his car. Madison and Hal had bought it for him when he turned sixteen. That was another reason he wanted to get a job. He wanted to be able to pay for his gas and insurance himself. He walked up the cracked sidewalk to the peeling screen. The mesh of the screen was ripped. Nervously, he knocked on the door. He winced a little at the ache in his knuckles. Little things, like knocking on a door, still hurt sometimes.

He could hear someone talking inside, then footsteps, as someone approached the door. The door opened and a beautiful girl looked through the screen at him. She had long dark hair like Madison’s and sparkling brown eyes. He swallowed. He kept his distance from girls. He didn’t know if he could trust himself around them, so he decided it was safer that way. That was another thing that Dr. Ross wanted him to work on. She kept trying to tell him that he wasn’t like his father, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. The girl frowned at him, and he realized that he was staring at her. He cleared his throat.

“I’m looking for Mrs. Roberts. I’m here about the yard work.”

“Grandma, the guy you hired to work in the yard is here.”

She opened the screen and let him in. He frowned. She just let him in without even checking to see who he was. He could be anyone, a psychopath with a razor sharp knife in his back pocket that he would…

He stepped into the house.

Prodigal Son: Prologue

Dear Drake,

I am in school now. I am learning to read and write. I don’t go to a real school. My teacher comes to our house. She gave me this cool computer, so I can write things down now. It’s hard. I’d rather play my 3DS games, but Madison said it was important to study. She made a deal with me. If I get all my work done, then I can play with my DS for an hour. Madison doesn’t know that I am writing to you. She told me that you didn’t want to hear from us, but I didn’t believe her. Hal told me he could get your address for me, and that he would mail the letter for me. You just can’t tell Madison. I think she would get mad that Hal and I have a secret that she doesn’t know.

I won’t be writing to you for a while. I’m having my first surgery in a couple of days. The doctor says that I’ll be able to use my hands once they get fixed. I’ll write to you again when I can.

Love,

Elijah

Deletion


Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

After writing 50,000 words in a month, I’ve taken a little break from my novel. I thought that, on December 1, I would sit down and start revising, but I realized I needed a little break. I needed some distance from the piece. As a writer, it’s easy for me to become wedded to a concept–to believe that it is written in cement, unchangeable.

To produce my best work, however, I must commit myself to the idea that my novel can be erased with the click of the delete button. With one swipe, I can turn my world upside down. Right can become left. Left can become right. My main character can change gender, turn evil. I must warp my perspective.

My first consideration is changing my point of view. I tend to write in the limited third-person. I am most comfortable with this point of view because it distances me from the character and the action. I never have to come too close to the character, but what if I leaped into the character’s head? What if I became the character? What would he say if I allowed him to speak for himself?

Another consideration is removing an entire character–really using that delete key. What if I removed one of the main characters? Who would come forward that has been hiding? Would my story flip upside down?

When Picasso wanted to capture the essence of the bull, he did not layer paint on the page like Bob Ross. Rather, he stripped the unnecessary elements away until he laid bare the bones of the bull. With each rendering, he gutted his image until all that was left was the spirit of the bull.

How far am I willing to go to allow my creation to emerge? How much will I strip from my work?

Warm up the delete key–here I come.

A Room of My Own?

Where I write

When my husband and I are driving through neighborhoods we wish we could afford to live in, we imagine what kind of rooms we would have in our dream house. He, of course, wants a man-cave where he can display his sports memorabilia and his action figures–excuse me, his rare collectibles. We imagine a giant room where our son’s massive collection of toys (excuse me, his rare collectibles) can be stored away from the living room.

Image result for writing desks

I dream of a place that doesn’t echo with the sounds of Wii tennis or laundry tumbling in the dryer. A place that doesn’t require me to clean up every time a meal is served. A place that isn’t surrounded by bills to be paid or homework to be finished. It doesn’t have to be a large room, just a small room, preferably with a door, where I could retreat every day to write or meditate or reflect. Where I could find a book without crawling through drying laundry or kitty litter. Where things that were valuable only to me

wouldn’t disappear.

Once when we were looking for a file cabinet at OfficeMax, I found a beautiful desk. It was designed to fit in a corner. It had not one, but two full desk-tops. The kicker for me, however, were the cupboards that ran the length of both desktops. The doors were inlaid with glass so I could see my supplies and find anything I needed. I yearned for that desk with all of my being, and it was on sale, but there was no room in our little house. It seemed that there was room for everything else: two jumbo rat cages, three litter boxes, six giant bins of toys, six book cases, a corner desk and two more book cases for the man-cave, but no room for my writing desk. Perhaps, the message is that there is no room for my writing. So, I make room.

After dinner, the computer comes back out to sit on the dining room table and remind me to write in the morning. It goes away for breakfast, but comes out again before lunch. I carve out time from chores and work and parenting. I don’t need a special room in my house for writing as long as I make room for writing in my life.

Help me find more ideas for blog posts, so I can sustain my momentum as a writer. Contact me with your ideas: https://musing550.blog/contact/

Living Fearless

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Dear God,

The thing I care most about is making sure that my son has a good life. I worry that I’m not a good enough role model for him. I don’t want him to live a life full of regrets, full of half-lived ambitions, and unresolved dreams. I want him to go after what he wants. I want him to be fearless.

To be the role model he needs, I need to start cultivating those qualities in myself. I need to stop sitting back and letting life pass me by. I have to pursue my dreams. If I want to be a writer, then I need to write. If I want to be a teacher, then I need to teach. Whatever it is that I’m meant to do, I need to find that thing and pursue it with my whole heart–for him, so he can see that it is possible to pursue his dreams and, in the pursuit, live a fuller life, rather than pining away, wishing for what might have been.

Living fearless,

J

Angst of a writer

My violin


I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.

Gustave Flaubert

 From the moment I picked up my first violin, I found it easy to make the instrument do what I wanted. My ear was true, and I could easily hear when my fingering was off and adjust accordingly. I was often dissatisfied with the sound I produced, because I played a beat-up loaner from the school. No matter how well I placed my fingers, the notes I produced were harsh and discordant. That changed when my mother’s foster-uncle loaned me his violin to play. It was a beautiful instrument with mother of pearl inlaid on the back. Its tone was old and mellow and it followed my commands obediently. I soon learned, however, that even my uncle’s beautiful violin was inferior to other instruments. I did not know that until my mom purchased my own violin from a concert violinist. My new violin was a 3/4 instead of a standard violin. Suddenly, everything felt right. I could hit the notes I intended and my violin had a light, delicate tone.

I started writing my own stories the same year I started playing the violin–the third grade. While writing was my passion, it didn’t come as naturally to me as playing the violin. While my violin produced the sounds I intended instantly, my pencil stuttered disobediently across the page. I just couldn’t seem to make the images that danced in my head come to life on the page. My brain felt as wooden as my violin, but did not sing as sweetly. Still, I persisted. After nine years, I gave up the violin. I never played it for enjoyment, but for the fulfillment of my mother’s frustrated childhood dreams. I, however, continued to write. Over the years, I started many projects, but left them unfinished. I grew frustrated with my uncooperative pencil, and let my writing routine lapse.

This fall, I realized that, unless I committed to putting that uncooperative pencil to paper every day, I would never be the writer I wanted to be. I committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge and completed my first novel. Every day, I berated my wooden brain and lackluster pencil for their lack of creativity, but I continued plodding to the end of my novel.

I realized that writing, unlike a violin performance, can be revised. Once I finished a violin solo, it was gone forever–the notes played and heard. I would never have the chance to repeat the performance and improve it. With writing, however, I can continue to work on a piece of writing that dissatisfies me until the words produce the melody that pleases me. I can let go the frustration I feel when I am drafting, because eventually I can make my writing sing. I will never be one of those writers who produces a perfect piece of writing on the first try, but I will eventually produce a masterpiece with dogged persistence and many revisions.

Sins of the Father: Epilogue

He had ditched the Jeep a couple of cities back. The Greyhound bus he rode in was almost empty. His pack sat in the seat next to him where the boy should be sitting. He still couldn’t believe the boy had betrayed him. The boy had screamed like he was some kind of monster. He didn’t have time to reason with him. He could’ve picked him up and carried him, but he knew the Sheriff wasn’t the only one in the woods. He couldn’t risk getting captured, and he couldn’t protect the boy if they started shooting at him, so he had left him there. He wondered where the boy was now. Probably in some shitty foster home. He’d been in a foster home once when his dad had gone to jail. He’d taken off as soon as he got the chance. It was better to be on your own than live like that. The people had actually locked their food up, so the kids in the house couldn’t eat very much. He clenched his fists. If his boy was in a house like that, he’d kill them. He forced himself to relax. He couldn’t worry about the boy now. His boy had made his choice. He’d have to live with the consequences. When things cooled down, he’d come back to Colorado. He’d find his boy again and that bitch of a Sheriff would pay.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 27

After Drake’s sentencing, Madison met with the mayor and the investigator from CBI. She wanted to be done with this whole ordeal. She hoped that with a few days of quiet, the mayor would finally accept her letter of resignation. After giving an account of the events leading up to that night in the clearing, Madison offered her resignation. The CBI investigator agreed with her that it was the best way to end the affair quietly. Since the mayor had hired her, he was also facing some flak for his decision. He accepted her resignation and a signed statement taking full responsibility for her actions as well as for the deployment of Hal during the exchange. 

After her meeting, she returned to her house. Drake was playing video games with the sitter that Rosie had recommended. After paying the sitter, Madison returned to packing up the house. She had only had her house on the market for a week before it sold, and now she and Elijah were moving back to Denver. Her former partner in the Homicide Unit had opened up a private security firm, and he had offered her a job despite her record as the Fruita Sheriff. She had filed paperwork to adopt Elijah, and Jack Hammond had transferred Elijah’s case to the CPS department in Denver. The child psychologist had been instrumental in Hammond deciding to let Elijah stay with her. She had endangered him in the debacle with his father, and she had almost lost him. In the end, Elijah had finally talked to the psychologist. Madison didn’t know what he had said, but whatever it was had convinced the psychologist to help Madison fight for him.

She sighed. She hoped that Elijah would speak to her again some day. For now, she spent as much time with him as she could. She hoped she would regain his trust eventually. She had been packing for a couple of hours when the doorbell rang. She was glad for the break. Going through Drake’s things and packing them separately was breaking her heart. She had decided that she would put all his things in storage until he finished his sentence. Even if he didn’t want to be with her any more, she didn’t want him to come out into the world with nothing. She had also arranged to have his commissary funded every month. She hoped he wasn’t too stubborn to use it.

Hal stood at the door with a pizza and a bag of drinks.

“Hal, what are you doing?”

“I figured you could use some dinner.”

“You figured right.”

“Come on in.”

Elijah’s eyes lit up when he saw the pizza. Pausing his video game, he ran into the kitchen. She heard the clatter of plates as he began to set the table. He was always doing things like that—helping her set the table and wash dishes.

“I guess he’s hungry.” Hal said.

Madison took the drinks from him and walked him into the kitchen. Elijah was waiting at the table. When Hal set the box in the middle of the table, Elijah helped himself to a couple of large pizzas. Madison gave Elijah a coke from the bag while Hal opened a couple of beers for them. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then, Hal took a swig from his beer, and wiped the pizza sauce off his chin.

“When do you leave?”

“The closing’s next week, and then we’ll go.”

Hal said, “You were a good sheriff, Madison.”

“Thanks, Hal. I don’t think the rest of the town shares your opinion. I really screwed this up bad. I should have listened to you.”

“You did what you had to do—what anyone would do in this situation.”

“I guess.” Hal’s words meant a lot to her, but they didn’t make her feel any better. She would probably never work in law enforcement again, but Hal was right. She had done what she had to do.

“I don’t know if you heard. They appointed me the interim Sheriff until they can replace you.”

“I thought they might. They should just hire you.”

“I don’t think I would want the job. Too much paperwork. You know I like to be in the field.”

Madison nodded. That was one thing being the Sheriff. Along with the responsibility came mounds of paper work. She had to admit she hadn’t enjoyed that part of the job, either.

“I know, Hal, but you’re a natural leader. You would be the best man for the job.”

“I don’t know about that. I told Mayor Rodriguez that Randy was the best man for the job.”

“Randy would be good, too, but you would be better.”

“I’m actually considering another job offer.”

“You are? Where?”

“I’ve been talking to the Denver Major Crimes Unit.”

“Are you sure, Hal? I thought you preferred small towns.”

“I thought I did, too, but I think I can make more of a difference in a larger unit. Any way, I want the chance to try.”

She was surprised that Hal was also leaving the Sheriff’s office, but a little pleased as well. She was going to miss him, but, if he were in Denver, they would be able to get together every now and then.

“Besides, I have a close friend who’s moving to Denver.”

“Hal…” Madison didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t deny that she was attracted to Hal. He understood her in ways that Drake hadn’t, but she still loved Drake. She wasn’t ready to move on yet.

“Madison…” he said, mimicking her tone. “I have to get going. I have some paper work to catch up on. I’ll see you in Denver.”

Madison walked him to the door and gave him a quick hug.

“I’ll see you.”

She and Elijah washed up the dishes together. When they were finished, Elijah grabbed her hand between his own and pulled her into the living room. She had more packing to do. She didn’t really have time to play a video game, but one look at Elijah’s wistful face broke her resolve. She had all day tomorrow.

“What’s it going to be, Elijah, MarioKart or Super Smash Bros?”

Elijah jumped onto the couch and handed her Drake’s 3DS. Madison settled in next to him as he began to punch the buttons on his game. She felt her heart grow warm. She may have lost the love of her life, but Elijah was helping the hole in her heart heal.