Monthly Archives: August 2013

On Writing: The Road Less Traveled

This starts out with lunch, meanders into a gaggle of geese, gets waylaid by pirates, but eventually does become about writing. I promise!

Today was a rare day off for me. I decided to pack a lunch, which included fresh tomatoes from my garden, and have a picnic in the park. I asked my father, who is retired, to join me and made sure to grab my digital camera as well.

I am blessed to live in an area where the city/state planners incorporated a lot of parks, forest preserves, and wildlife areas. Really, there are parks every few miles. You can easily find a place for a quiet moment just doing nothing—just sitting and looking at the river and listening to the wind blowing in the trees.
This is the view of the river from one of my favorite picnic tables:

River

River

As we were eating, we were joined by a gaggle of geese. They managed to wheedle part of our lunch (the bread of course—never surrender the tomatoes!). As you can see, they came quite close:

Goose

Goose

Goose

Goose

Goose

Goose

After the unexpected visitors waddled back into the water, we went for a short walk along a path we had never followed before.

Path

Path

Of course, the writer in me likes to wax philosophical about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” at moments like this, but the sci-fi geek in me then recalls Joss Whedon’s take on this poem:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN’ SHOW [Firefly]. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn.”

Be that as it may—where I ended up was at a land-locked pirate ship:

Pirate Ship

Pirate Ship

I had no idea anything like this existed in my neighborhood. It was on someone’s private property, not on the public grounds of the forest preserve. I tried to cut out any distinguishing features of the house or property in the picture, but if you have a pirate ship in your yard, it is kind of hard to hide.

Now this comes to writing (as I promised!). These unexpected turn of events happen in our lives on a daily basis. (At least they happen to me.) You could build a story around it, but it would be the focus of a story and not just something that happened on a walk in the woods. It would be a strange “side event” in a narrative. Readers would wonder about the symbolism and would be frustrated if it did not tie into their vision of the storyworld.

Why is it there?

Well, why wouldn’t it be there?

We can accept these items in day-to-day life without having to tie them into the narratives of our lives. This is a luxury, though, that is not available with stories that we write—the storyworlds we create—for others. For others it needs to make sense.

As writers we can choose to have our characters take the road well-traveled through the woods encountering only trees, flowers, animals, and so forth, we can take the road less-traveled, complete with pirate ship-tangents, and lose our readers’ interest in frustration, or take Whedon’s type of path where the pirate ship is part of the story—but only a small part–with a lot of other small parts added along the way; you will lose the interest of people who do not understand, but you might make something that a lot of others love just as much as you do—a storyworld when your readers’ imaginations can flourish.

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