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.

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.

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.

National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-2018-Writer-BadgeNovember is National Novel Writing Month. The website, nanowrimo.org, hosts a novel writing competition to honor the month. The goal is 50,000 words in a month. I’ve had an idea for a novel. I had even finished an outline for it, but had not had much luck progressing on the actual draft. This month, I decided to devote at least an hour a day to writing my novel. My daily goal is to write at least 1500 words. So far, I have written 18659 words. That’s the most I have ever written on a single writing project. I hope by the end of November to have the first draft of my novel finished.

In honor of the month, I decided to begin posting my novel here on my blog.

The Day I Became a Writer

In the third grade, I discovered that the books I loved to read were written by actual people. I am not sure where I thought books and stories came from before I discovered this, but it was an important moment for me. I remember standing by Mrs. Hill, my third grade teacher, as she created a bulletin board. I asked her what the bulletin board was for and she told me we were going to publish our stories. She told me that all the books I read were written by people just like me. I was astounded. She also told me I was going to write and publish my very own book.

Image result for yellow legal padThe day she posted my book on the bulletin board was the first day I considered myself to be a writer. My first story was about a bird who had lost its family. I designed the cover for my book and made my book in the shape of a bird. After school, I went home and told my mom I wanted to be a writer. She immediately bought me a large yellow legal pad and some sharp new pencils, and I began writing.

Over the years, I have filled up spiral notebooks, binders, and bound journals with my writing. My writing has gotten me through tough times–when I was stuck in dead-end jobs with no way out, when I lost teaching jobs, when I was sad or depressed. At times, I have stopped writing, but no matter how long I stay away from writing, I always come back to it.

When I write, I can express ideas that I am sometimes afraid to say out loud. I can be me without the fear of judgment or criticism. I can tell stories, state my opinions, and explore new ideas. Writing makes me happy and inspires me to improve.

Whenever I think about giving up writing because I am discouraged or it feels too hard, I think back to Mrs. Hill and the day I became a writer, and I realize that writing isn’t just something I do. It’s a part of who I am.

Trinity

confession
Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

“Forgive me, Father. for I have sinned. It has been 25 days since my last post.”

I am not Catholic, so I do not answer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but my writing has its own trinity: the Dissertation, the Novel, and the Blog.

This month, I have written 30 pages of my dissertation. After wading through countless research studies on the Response-to-Intervention model and research-based instructional practices and then dissecting them for my dissertation, I find that I don’t have much left for either the novel or the blog. I have an outline for my novel, so even if I am not inspired, I can sit down and write. My idea is developing, so I can figure out something to write about, but so far, I have only written seven pages.

Unfortunately, once I am finished working on my dissertation and my novel, I don’t seem to have much left to say in my blog. I struggled at the beginning of this month with my blogging identity. I can’t seem to figure out what my niche should be. I am not writing about fashion, or living on a farm, or pop culture. I am not sure I want to have a niche, even though I know that would increase my followers. I quit working on the blog entirely, because of this conundrum. What is my blogging identity?

I kept coming back to the title of my blog–“Beginning Again.” When I started my blog, the title defined this era of my life. I was at the end of my teaching job and wondering about changing careers. I was at a turning point in my life. I thought about all the things I like to do and writing is one of my favorite things to do. I began to work on developing my identity as a writer. Writing is the one thing I come back to again and again. I can be away from it for years, but I always pick it up again. So, I am a year into this exploration of writing. Can I still say I am beginning again?

Then, I thought that we’re all beginning again every day. Every day, we wake up and we begin again. We have new choices to make and consequences to face. Our lives are always changing. Every day, I wake up and tell myself, “Today I will write.” And I do. Maybe, it’s not on my blog, but I am writing something–my journal, my dissertation, my novel. But I begin every day with that commitment to myself. In other areas of my life, I wake up and make a similar commitment to myself. My commitment is not for tomorrow or next year or ten years from now. It is for today. “Today, I will…”

My other title for my blog is “Writing from the Heart.” When I thought about this subtitle, I realized that, perhaps, this is my niche, my writing identity. When I write on my blog, I will write from my heart. I will be honest with myself and my readers. I will have the courage to admit my faults and failures and the confidence to celebrate my strengths and my successes. And, then, it hit me. That is my niche.

To write honestly and maybe forge connections with other people who might struggle with the same issues as I do.

So, instead of chastising myself because I haven’t posted on my blog. I can be honest about my struggle to post. I can celebrate the fact that I am posting today. Instead of flagellating myself because I have only written 7 pages on my novel, I can celebrate the fact that I have started.

This month, I have written 30 pages on my dissertation, seven pages of my novel, and published six posts on my blog. Perhaps, I do not need forgiveness after all.