Changes

 Crater Lake | Guy L. Pace

Changes

So much changes in our lives. About fifty years ago, I was a young man in Central Oregon. My friends and I made a huge playground of the high desert. We explored lava tube caves and the wide open juniper forest, climbed Mt. Bachelor and the South Sister, among other things. What is now a national monument (the Newberry National Volcanic Monument) was our back yard.

Where we used to hunt rabbits, bike, and hike is now filled with subdivisions around Bend, OR. Our old archery deer hunting grounds became the Sun River resort destination.

Now I must pay admission to go up Lava Butte or visit Paulina Lake. Well, I would if I didn’t have my senior pass (that was a very good decision).

Change is the only constant.

I met my brother and cousin in Southern Idaho recently, and the three of us rode our motorcycles through to Oregon, the coast, and finally to Crater Lake. In all the time I’ve lived around the area, I never got to Crater Lake. This time I did and it was the final destination we had as a group. From here, we split and went different ways. This gave me some time to reflect on our travels, the places we visited, and the sights we saw.

The pace

Some places, like the John Day area, change little or slowly. It seemed some of the farms we passed had the same horses I used to see all those years ago. The pace is slower and all the businesses are still there.

Bend, on the other hand, is so very different now. The pace is faster. Growth continues. Nothing looks the same. It takes time and effort to find the old house, the park, the high school, and some of the other places that were meaningful so long ago.

Like the characters in our stories, change is a given. Nothing stays the same for long. Prices increase and people move. Farmers grow different crops because of economic changes. New highways bypass old neighborhoods and leave the past behind. All that impacts our characters. Sometimes for the good. Sometimes not. It is rare that a place retains the nuances someone might remember from long ago.

Keep this in mind as you work with a character in your story.

Keep writing.

 

P.S. — Never explore lava tube caves alone. You never know when you need a friend to pull you out by the feet. And, take a flashlight with fresh batteries.

 

 

Small

Small is Beautiful

Small | Guy L. PaceThese days, I’m amazed at how small things can get. What used to need more carrying capacity, now fits into a small bag.

I’m packing for a trip. My sleeping bag compresses into a very small bag. My sleeping mat and pillow go into a smaller bag. Cooking and other necessities take much less space in the saddle bags these days. What required a lot of bungee cords and cargo nets in the past, now fit neatly into the saddle bags and I have more room for basic luggage and me.

In the past, touting on my Harley-Davidson softail was more complicated. Now, with all the newer, more compressed, smaller equipment, it is getting simpler. I now expect a more enjoyable journey. I’m looking forward to it.

Like the Chihuahua in the picture (that looks so very much like my little Paco from years ago), small is beautiful. Simple, little, small things make a huge difference in our lives and in our writing. Chihuahuas bring to their humans huge loyalty and great courage. What a wonderful and unexpected benefit from such a small package.

After the first draft

When we write–after the first draft of course–we should make every effort to trim the writing down to the essentials. Just those words necessary to the story. Like Hemingway, use economy, precise word choice, nuance, to move the story and the reader. In The Old Man and the Sea, Papa kept the narrative to a minimum and used his skills to tell a powerful, complete, Nobel-prize winning novella in under 30,000 words. He claims the story did not have symbolism, but was the bare story of courage, pain, and triumph.

Like Papa, I don’t need to lead the reader around the story by the nose. I let them fill in the details with their own imagination. My own Sudden Mission could have run to 100,000 words, but would have been more of a doorstop at that length. Write just what needs writing.

Keep writing (with a Chihuahua in your lap).

 

Something Happened

Something Happened

Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22) published Something Happened in 1974. I read Catch 22 shortly after leaving the military, so the theme and humor wasn’t lost on me. I thought Something Happened would be a good read too. It was a good read in a very strange way. I won’t spoil the books in case you haven’t read them.  Something Happened was–as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called it–deeply unhappy.

something happened | Guy L. PaceBut, something did happen.

That’s the point of writing a story or novel, isn’t it? Something happened. You develop characters, settings, motivations. Then something happens.

Unlike Heller’s second novel, more than the thing happens in most of our writing and usually much earlier in the story. Short stories may have one or two things happen. Novels can have a lot of things happen. In all cases, though, there is one key thing that happens and that drives the story or plot.

In my current work in progress, the main character Amy is working and living in the community her friends, family, and neighbors built after the collapse of everything, “the Troubles.” She’s mentoring Paul’s little sister, dealing with jealousy, and working in a subsistence lifestyle. Then something happens. It isn’t the really big something happens, but it does lead to other things. She gets involved in dealing with that, and something else happens.

Gardening

Think of a writer as gardener. The gardener plants a seed. Between the soil, the moisture, nutrients, and the seed; something happens. The seed sprouts and emerges out of the ground. The writer nurtures this new life to see it grow, bloom, and produce fruit. The result depends in large part on what seed the gardener chose, what kind of soil, and if the plant got enough moisture. It also depends on the nurturing the writer pours into it.

What follows after something happens spins on your character(s). Characters react and respond in ways true to their nature and believable to the reader. That, then, takes your story to the next thing that happens. And so on.

In the end, the reader find the fruit. The reader knows that something happened.

Keep writing.

 

The Unknown

The Unknown

Unknown Road | Guy L. PaceYou probably heard of or read the poem by Robert Frost of “The Road Not Taken.” It is sweet poetry and one most of us heard in school. My take is a little different. Any road traveled leads to the unknown. You can never predict what you’ll find around the next curve, or down that little lane through the trees.

It’s the unpredictable, the unknown, that helps drive the story and develop the character. As the author, you should have some idea of what is going to happen in the story. There is a purpose and reason behind the writing, after all. Right? But, sometimes you must let things surprise even you.

In Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers, I allowed the story and the characters to surprise me as I wrote. As the characters moved through the United States in the first book, and Washington, D.C. in the second, I had an idea about what they would find or do in the end. But I didn’t have a complete, detailed plan for how the characters would get to that end, or what they would meet on the way.

One mantra I use as I write is “what could go wrong now?” That usually brings surprises.

Adventure

Turn down an unknown road, take a new route–that’s where the adventure begins. The unpredictable, the unknown awaits beyond that next curve. You’ll find it down that tree-lined lane, or over that next hill. The drive to seek adventure is part of what makes us human. Characters we create for our stories are no less prone to taking that unpredictable turn, or finding that tree-lined lane irresistible. They will roll on the throttle and charge into the twisting curves of a new road with the same enthusiasm we have in the same situation. They seek adventure with wild abandon.

When your character finds the adventure–that’s when the story gets interesting. That’s when you drag the reader kicking and screaming into a fight against a horde of zombies. Or, encounter aliens for the first time, and your character isn’t sure if they are friendly or not.

Not everyone is open to adventure. Some are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, that is all thrust upon them anyway. That tree-lined lane holds terror and horror for them. But, they must go down that lane and they must face that horror. This is a trope you find in horror movies and novels. The young babysitter hears a noise at the door. She approaches and the audience or reader shouts, “Don’t open the door!” But it is in our nature to open that door. Take that new road. Charge ahead. We can’t help it.

Sweet dreams, and …

Keep writing.

 

Something Simple

Something Simple

Old Timer | Guy L. PaceThere are times the tool you need to save the world is something simple.

The Old Timer pocket knife given to the main character, Paul, in Sudden Mission didn’t play a huge role right away. That changed in Nasty Leftovers. I’m not going to give anything away here. The Old Timer is a simple story element. Why did I choose an Old Timer. Well, almost every adult male I knew growing up carried one of these little knives made by Schrade. Grandpa had one. He wore the blades down to almost nothing because he’d used them so much and sharpened them so many times. He finally bought a new one. Probably paid all of five dollars for it then.

They are small and fit in a pocket. Most of the ones I saw when I was young were two-blade folders like the picture here. Simple. Useful. Vital. Easy to carry and always in the pocket. If you needed a bit of twine cut, there it was. Need to trim your finger nails? Here you go. Want to whittle a bit on a stick or carve a buffalo head out of a chunk of cottonwood? Yep, you got it.

Fathers handed Old Timer pocket knives down to sons. Or, granddads to grandsons.

Now this is from my memories growing up in the western US. Your mileage may vary. But, when you find that item in either book, you now know where it came from and why it holds so much value. Something simple. But something that fulfilled a tremendous role in the story.

Save the World

Can you save the world with an Old Timer? Maybe. Maybe not. You might be able to build a civilization with one. Or save a life.

When you put your own story together, think about the simple things attached to the character or the action. What impact do they, or could they, have on the outcome? What impact might they have on the character and his or her development? Are the other characters in the story impressed by this simple thing? Something simple can feed the story’s crisis and conflict, or help the main character find the solution.

We often overlook the little things. The simple things.

In the case of the Old Timer, it was something simple Paul carried around with him. Until he needed it.

Keep writing.

 

Note: This isn’t on Tuesday because, well, life. It happens. Enjoy!