Several years ago I was driving by a local barbecue joint and I saw this huge gun. I mean big, folks, taller than me (hold your cracks). This huge gun is sitting out front of this restaurant, and get this: it’s on wheels. I screeched to a stop, pulled over, and took a picture (I just happened to have my camera with me). Who can resist a photo of someone rolling out the big guns?
The plan was to use that photo on my blog. At some point, I knew I would have some situation where we had to roll out the big guns, and BAM! I would have the perfect picture to accompany the adage. I was prepared to make people chuckle. Revel in my cleverness, O followers of my blog! Bow down before the preparedness of She Who Takes Pictures of Larger-Than-Life Guns Just So She Can Use Them on Her Blog.
The problem was, I never did have a situation where I could legitimately say I needed to roll out the big guns. I even tried to frame the events of my life in those terms, just so I could use the dumb picture, but I could never make it work. I still have the blog, and I still have the picture. It’s gathering virtual dust in a folder on my desktop.
Four years, and I never could find the punch line.
And as I was thinking about my writing, worrying for the umpteenth time about my book and the problems I’ve had in attempting to overhaul it, I thought about that picture. Good intentions, cleverness abounding, but no punch line. It’s an unfinished joke, one that’s lasted for years.
And that reminded me of The Nutcracker.
I'm at The Nutcracker about a week ago and this guy sits next to me. He’s obviously part of a larger party, only they’re all girls and they’re sitting in the row in front of me. So Odd Man Out sits next to me, and about 10 minutes into the show he leans forward to the girl on his right, and he caresses her ponytail with his fingers, lightly brushing her shoulder at the end. She’s stock still, but then a beat too late, she flinches. The seats in the theater are small and close together, but I lean as far away as I can from Odd Man Out, my womanly simpatico in full-force with Ponytail Girl. What is up with homedude?
But it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. A few minutes later, the creep leans forward to whisper something in her ear. She flinches right on time this go-round, and swats at him like he’s a fly buzzing in her ear. But get this. He then leans to the girl on his left—who’s sitting directly next to Ponytail Girl—whispers something in her ear, then caresses her shoulder with his hand and leaves it there. He’s just sitting there for several minutes with his hand on her shoulder. And she never flinches. She smiles at what he’s said and leaves his hand on her shoulder.
There’s gotta be a story in there somewhere, right?
I thought about it through most of The Nutcracker and I’ve thought about it for a week, but I have no idea what the story is.
So it’s like the picture of the big gun. A joke without a punch line. A scene, but no story.
And that brings me back to my book. Oh, my book. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years, and it’s okay, it needs a lot of reworking, but it’s got good bones, right? But there’s a bad guy and I have no idea what the bad guy does at the end of the story, and, really, what he does just has to change the current ending, but I don’t know how or why or in what ways. I don’t know if the bad guy reforms or if he dies or if he decides to take a trip to Bermuda. I’ve got most of his Act I, but Act II? Nothing.
Which is sort of like The Nutcracker. Man, all the action is in Act I. The Rat King, the tin soldiers, Clara swinging a sword. Act I is happening. Act II? Act II is nothing but a bunch of fairies dancing. Aside from the familiar music and some decent moves, Act II bored me to tears. I could have fallen asleep, except I was trying to discover the story behind Odd Man Out and Ponytail Girl. Really, I don’t see what the draw is. I can’t imagine going to this ballet year after year. Bo-ring.
And I don’t want my story to be boring. I want Act II to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. I don’t want my readers to say, “Seriously? Another dancing couple? Enough already! Give us the rats and tin soldiers!” More to the point, I want to have readers. What good is a story if no one reads it?
So I need to find the punch line. I need to know what happens in Act II. I need to find the story. And perhaps, like this thing here, the best way to do that is to just write it. But the big guns and Odd Man Out and Ponytail Girl hang over me and I wonder, what if I can’t find it? I have come at this thing from a few different angles lately, and I keep hitting a wall. This story is mine, but what if I’m never able to fully tell it, to uncover it and present it the way it should be shown? What if I’m not good enough? What if my tools are dull and my imagination weak and my writing—oh, my writing—average?
And I remember that if I want to write, I should write, and of course I haven’t been, and I’m out of practice, and I’ve been legitimately distracted, but what good is time off if I don’t write, and I just want to finish the darn thing, but it needs to be done right, and around and around I go. But there is a groove to be found, even if it’s not now. There is a flow, a crackle, and the muse escapes me currently. But as King has said (he whose story I am currently reading) that if the muse knows where to find you, she will eventually show up. So perhaps I’ll roll out the big guns (no. . . even now it doesn’t work) or maybe I’ll just start small, grease up the gears and get the machine rolling again. And maybe I’ll work with OMO and PG for a while, see if there’s something there, or maybe I’ll revisit my bad guy.
But, looky here, what do we have? There it is folks, some writing. Half-cocked, partially incoherent, but I'm in the chair again, 1:00 am and I couldn't stay in bed because the words kept coming. Yes, I remember, and I'm still a writer.
*Permission to use the photo should the need arise. Please let me know if you do. It needs a home.