A friend gave me a lovely ceramic bowl and I could just picture it filled with polished white rocks of assorted sizes. So I loaded up my tumbler with those that I’d collected, tightened the knerled screw (I love that word, knerled!) and plugged in the tumbler.
After about an hour I noticed that I couldn’t hear the tumbler going (contrary to the literature that came with it, when in operation it does not sound like rain on the roof. It sounds like a mini concrete mixer). Maybe it needed oiling. I got out my trusty can of WD-40, sprayed the moving parts and plugged it back in. The rubber barrel rolled once. . .and then stopped. I lifted the barrel off the rollers and all was revealed.
It was very, very heavy. In my eagerness to fill that beautiful bowl with white rocks, I’d filled the barrel too full. When I removed some of the rocks, my trusty little Lortone rolled happily along once more.
Of course I saw a connection between this event and my writing. Sometimes I weigh a story down — perhaps not with rocks, but with sub-plots, or set pieces or, my particular weakness, too many characters. Sometimes the best way to get a story rolling again is to lighten it up, take some of the rocks from its pockets. I have to say I’ve put down several books lately because they were weighted down with too much story stuff.
I recently read The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, by Barbara O’Connor (an ARC sent to me by the author). The book is due out in October and I encourage you to buy it and read it once for the delightful story and again to find out how the heck she works her magic on the page. What I admire most is how she so matter-of-factly deals with her characters’ realities. For example, Owen’s father lost his job, which meant they had to move in with Owen’s grandfather. This is hard on the family, certainly. It is a problem, and one that many of O’Connor’s kid readers are dealing with. But in her skillful hands, it’s not a Problem. It’s simply part of Owen’s story. Example:
Joleen Bekus had moved into the house where Owen used to live. She had torn down Owen’s fort and made a garden. She had hauled off all the car parts on the back porch and put a rocking chair there. She had painted right over JESTER on the mailbox and stenciled on BERKUS in perfect black letters, and now she spent the livelong day hollering at Owen and Travis and Stumpy every time they set foot in her yard (which used to be Owen’s).
Now, from this excerpt, you know exactly how rotten Owen feels about having to leave his house and fort. But Barbara O’Connor reveals this without weighing the story — or the reader — down.
This is one reason her stories shine like polished agates. And one reason I study her story-telling techniques.