The Stories Begun

It’s writing Tuesday again!!  I cannot tell you how glad I am for this!  Usually I have at least one idea running around in my head, but not this time.  So, it’s time for another thousand or so words of creative something.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading a TON of my old stuff and determining what I want to do with it.  Some of it is still in that scary writer’s limbo: I know I want to do something with it, I just have no idea what that something might be.  Some of it has moved up into the “work on it soon, you dip” file (this is a slightly more urgent file than the “to be worked on” file mentioned in the last writing Tuesday post, just to be clear).  None of it has been tabled.  But, because of the nostalgia trip, I decided this week’s one shot (and next week’s) will be from images in as yet undeveloped scenes from these stories that have been flitting around in my conscious for a while.  This week’s scene is at least three years old (I began saving the ideas for it in April of ’08) and it’s about time I started writing parts of it down.  It’s from the rodeo family series I’m developing, the third book called Life on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.  The series is currently named after the first book because I’m too lazy to figure out what I want to call it.  Mostly, I’m working on this because it involves one of my favorite characters.  If I could marry this man, I would (Is that weird, creating a character you’d marry? NAAAAHHHHHHH!!).  You’re welcome, Celeste (That’s right, I so know you would, too!).

Addison hated to call Jason with something this huge.  Well, she hated to call anyone with something so monumental, but Jason Stern especially.  She wasn’t a fool.  She knew how he felt, she knew that whatever she asked of him–unreasonable or no–would be done.  It felt like she was using him.  Then again, shouldn’t thirty years be enough time to get over someone?  It wasn’t as if she hadn’t given him his space.  He had come to her after thirteen years of silence.   That should have meant he was over her.  That should have meant that calling in a favor wasn’t a big deal, that they were just friends and that was that.  That should have meant she didn’t have to feel guilty.

But she did.  Addison could spend all day with the wouldacouldashouldas, but it didn’t stop the truth of how she felt.  Or the fact that she knew that thirteen years had been enough time for Jason to become a good man, but not enough for him to “get over” her.  Thirty years had been enough for that, maybe, but not enough for him to want somebody else.  Jason was a problem, a good friend, but a problem.  So, Addison hated to call him with anything, but especially something this huge.  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t just calling in a favor.  Besides, she knew that it hurt her husband, Levi, that Jason might be able to do something that Levi couldn’t.

However, despite all this, Addison needed Jason.  Or, more correctly, her daughter, Coreen, needed him.  So, Addison called.  Three seconds, two rings, one deep breath.




“That’s me.  Please tell me you’re home.”

“I am.  What’s wrong?”

“Who says–”

“Don’t play with me Ad,” Jason snapped at his long-time friend.  “Let’s be honest, you call me for two reasons: good news and bad news.  You never call just to say hey.  Besides, who on this green earth cares if someone’s home if the news is good?”

“You’ve got me there.  On all counts,” Addison said tiredly.  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Never you mind.  At least, not right now.  Tell me what’s wrong and we’ll figure out you bein’ a lousy friend later.”

Addison winced.  When she had met Jason, he hadn’t been nearly so honest or straight-forward.  She had taught him that.  Some days she appreciated it.  Some days she regretted it.  Most days, she couldn’t decide.  This was one of them.

“Coreen’s pregnant.”


“Yeah, that’s about all we can figure to say ourselves.”

“Is the boy in the picture?”

“No, and we don’t want him to be.  Lousy son of a buck, that one.”  Ad smiled through the tears that started to fall.  Jason had been the one to teach her that phrase.  When she was new to college rodeo, Jason had been her gateway to it all for a while.  During this tough time, these were the small things that she had to hold onto.

“What can I do?”

“I hate to do this to you, I really do,” Addison paused for a long moment, gathering the courage it would take to make this request, “but is it possible for you to let Coreen live at your place for a while?  She can’t do school and be a mom at the same time.  We’d come out and pick her up if we could, but she won’t let us.  We’d feel so much better if she were taken care of by someone we know and not in a dingy apartment paid by some waitressing job.  We’ll pay you rent, we’ll help out with any unexpected expenses of any sort, you won’t be responsible for her much at all, she’ll just be a really quiet roommate.  You won’t even see her that much, seeing as you’re on the road so much!” Addison rushed through the last part of her proposal as fast as she could, part from nervousness, part from guilt.  Was there even a justification for her request or was she completely out of line here?

“Ad, don’t be stupid.  When does she move out of the dorms?  She’s at U of A, right?  I’ll make sure I’m there to pick her up.”  Jason didn’t even bother to say yes.  As if there had been any doubt he would do what Addison asked him to do.  She called and he jumped.  There was a disturbing pattern to it all, but in many ways it was the least he could do.  He owed so much to her after the way he treated her when they were together that he had a lifetime of paying her back before he could call it even.

“She has until the end of this week.”

“Good, I’m in town until next week.  I’ll be able to help her get settled.  And don’t you even think about payin’ me rent.  D’you still have my e-mail, hon?”

“Yeah, Stern, I do.” Addison sighed.

“Send me hers and her phone number.  Make sure she knows to expect to hear from me.  We’ll arrange a time for me to help her move out.  I assume you want to be kept in the loop without her knowing?”

“You always were a quick study, Jason.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know about that.  Does she know you’re callin’ me about this?”

“Not yet she doesn’t,” Addison admitted.  “I didn’t want to get her hopes up.  I’ll only send you her info if she agrees that moving in with you’s the smart choice.  Frankly, I think it’s her only healthy choice, but what do I know?  I’m her mother, I haven’t known anything since she was fourteen.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that, Ad,” Stern objected.  “Every teen is like that.”

“You’d think that, but not every teen runs off to college and gets pregnant their Freshman year.”  Addison wished she could take the judgmental words back as soon as she said them.  She was so glad her daughter hadn’t been there to hear them.  This was one of the reasons Addison secretly thought it was a really good idea her daughter wasn’t letting Levi and Addison come pick her up.  Things were just too volatile right now and were liable to blow up in their faces.  Perhaps in a few months, but right now there would likely be some unforgivable words said that wouldn’t just damage the parent-child relationship, but the grandparent-grandchild relationship to come.  It was time, hard as it was, to back off.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know you didn’t.”  Addison was grateful that, no matter how awful she could be, she had a friend like Jason, a friend who always saw the best in her.

“Just keep her safe, Jason.  Do what I can’t.”

“You bet, Ad.”

Jason was glad of the silence as he hung up his cell phone and tossed it on the couch in his sparse living room.  Well that’s going to have to change, he thought at no one in particular.  This was no atmosphere for a teen, much less an expecting mother, much less a child.  He was lucky, though, he had the means to change that.  It was time for a change anyhow.

See you next week with something else inspired by the archives!



Okay, today’s a writing day.  I have NOTHING to talk about by way of craft and I’ve been dying to work on something other than blogs for weeks.  Seeing as I won’t really have time to write anything outside my blogs for the next six and a half weeks, you best bet I’m taking the time NOW to do it.  Also, if I don’t do this now, the right side of my brain will do a hostile take-over of my motor functions and bang my head against my desk in protest (mostly likely the left side in an attempt to dull its reactions).

Now, what is a writing day, you may ask?  I will answer: It’s a day where I take an idea (preexisting or totally new) and develop it into a one-shot.  It may be a snap shot of a scene I want to write, it may be an image I want to develop.  No serial one-shots allowed!  It’s been a disgustingly long time since I put up a writing sample.  This is a writing blog, for crying out loud!  Where’s the writing?!?

Well, it’s finally here (and I think I’m going to make this a fourth and fifth week tradition from now on–the prospect of that hostile take-over really frightens me).  But first, as always, some rules (I love me some rules):

  • As I already mentioned, NO SERIAL ONE-SHOTS!!!!  If I fall in love with something I’ve done (which is not likely first time around), it gets put in the “to be worked on” file.  NOT the “blogging” file.
  • One thousand two hundred fifty words, +/- 10%.  This is the rule of thumb one of my college profs used for “big” essays and it works well (for those of you out there screeching, “That’s nowhere near the length for a big essay,” please keep in mind that we did a paragraph essay per class and weekly essays–he was being kind).
  • If I so chose, I can do a brief blog post beforehand.  No more than three paragraphs.
I believe that’s all that needs to be done.  Now, for the writing!
  The girl had made her peace with the dip.  Past this point in the road, there was no easy place to turn around excepting the loop that ran by her parents’ house.  That was no good option and the neighbors knew her beater well enough to know who the crazy person was pulling a K-turn in the middle of the out-of-the-way residential area she had lived in her whole life.  Someone would mention seeing the car to her mother and father and ask how the visit went (the neighbors were horribly nosy, and the last visit had been such a debacle they were dying for more gossip).  The girl would then get a miles long lecture about neglect and love and how she had a funny way of showing it.  No, she knew better than to try that.  So she made her peace with the dip, despite the fact that this was the point of no return.  The dip meant she was coming home.
It had always been that way, when she thought about it.  With her strict upbringing and her parents antiquated ideas about an appropriate curfew for a high school student (most study groups didn’t end until eleven–where in heavens name did ten o’clock make sense for a curfew?!), the girl was often isolated from her friends.  Even when they did go out, this was the point where the conversation began to wind down.  There was no sitting and talking  in the car in the dim pool of the porch lights allowed.  And there would certainly be no inviting the friends in the house.  If the girl took longer than her parents deemed appropriate for a goodbye, they would come out and collect her from the car.  It was mortifying for both parties, the driver and the passenger, so even the girl’s friends had learned to respect the curfew.  Only the newest ever challenged it.  Unconsciously, the conversation would begin to peter out at the dip so that by the time the house was reached, the girl was safely inside before too long.  The girl had come to hate the dip for the role it played in her isolation.
It was only when she moved out for college (and never again came back to live under the same roof as her parents) that she began to look back on those memories fondly.  Her friends, after all, had loved her enough to put up with the daily shenanigans of her misguided parents.  They had never pushed to come to her house, knowing it would cause her pain–pain if she didn’t ask on behalf of her friends and pain if she did.  Those small comments between the dip and her house were treasures, the things that her friends had to tell her before the night ended.  This was when her peace was made and she was able to look at the dip as a place to go beyond, not a place to run from.
And here she was, crossing it again.  Physically more than intellectually, she knew just how much to slow down and just when to punch the gas to prevent scraping the bottom of her car, but not lose too much speed.  After all, however claustrophobic and frightening home could be, it was still home.  Once she passed the dip, she might as well get there fast.
The parents cordially greeted their daughter with about as much love and tenderness one might expect from a couple who felt all their hard work and care in raising their child had been thrown back in their faces.  It was a stiff meeting–clearly neither party had forgotten the words said (or the particularly well aimed projectiles thrown) at their last encounter.  Franky, though, this stiffness was barely worse than their usual stilted version of family life.  At least there was an agreed upon reason for this.  As far as the girl could recollect, that had never happened before.
Still, the uneasy agreement on what caused the issue made the conversation no easier.  In fact, in many ways, it made the conversation harder.  The girl would not apologize for refusing her parents’ offer to move back in with them and be–for all intents and purposes–a slave with the “benefit” of living with the masters.  The parents would not apologize for their expectations for their daughter, nor the frequently expressed disappointments when they failed to be met.  Neither party was willing to apologize for the items thrown and destroyed.
It was not long before the silences were unbearable and the conversations intolerable.  The girl was reasonably confident nothing else would be thrown and that no words could make her feel worse.  Unfortunately, she was also confident that no words would make her feel better.  Perhaps indicative of a bitter soul, but true nonetheless.  Too many opportunities for the right words had come and gone–some hers, some theirs.
There was some purpose to today’s visit.  Perhaps not an apology, but a peace offering.  A grandchild.  Surely no parent could deny the child of their own!  There was no boy or girl to raise the child with, just the girl.  She had seen no relationship on the horizon and had decided to have the child on her own.  Perhaps not the wisest of decisions, but if she delayed getting a new car she really didn’t need (the beater was still going strong) and worked from home a bit more often, there was no reason this couldn’t work.
The parents brusquely pushed her out of the house when the announcement was made.  Two minutes later, they followed.  The parents had made their peace with the dip, too, you see.  It was a different point of no return.  They knew that if they had sufficiently shamed their daughter, she would turn around before the dip and come back with apologies to make it better.  But if not, she would blast by the dip without a second thought and do whatever she pleased.  The parents realized it had been years since they had been able to shame her into doing their bidding (her choice of college had proven that) and this was too important to leave to chance.  They didn’t catch up in time.  Just as the father lay on the horn to alert the girl of their presence, she crossed the dip.  She turned back, though, and for a moment the parents hoped.  But she stopped before the nose of her car touched the dip.  She got out, and waited.
Such a simple thing, this dip.  Unassuming in it’s presence, worn but well-kept, it never stood out to anyone so much as it stood out to these three.  For something meant to bridge an otherwise difficult point in the road, it certainly acted as an uncrossable chasm for this family.  They stood across it, staring.  Cars parked on either side, silently confronting each other.
It was too much.  The girl knew it was time to go.  She had passed the point of no return.  The beater’s door gave off rust as she slammed closed, turned the key in the ignition and reversed into the nearest driveway.  Without a backwards glance, she drove away.  For a single, short moment, it looked as if the father might follow–not out of love, but spite.  But the dip’s strange power over this household asserted itself once more, and the much more pristine car pulled the K-turn the girl had studiously avoided for so long.
A lone neighbor had noted the strange happenings outside her window and had watched the wordless exchange.  Before the parents’ car had passed out of her view, she was on the phone.  The rumor mill was running once more.
And the dip sat in the middle of the road, blissfully unaware.
Oooh, that was fun!  See you next week!

I was first introduced to the term “purple prose” by my best friend in an e-mail.  Thankfully, I was able to gain enough of the definition from context to survive the rest of the e-mail’s content without confusion, but I do recall asking for a more detailed definition.  What I received in response was a particularly hilarious rant about Christopher Paolini and his tendency towards flowery, unnecessary description.  To this day, I cannot see a Paolini book without smiling in amusement at that rant from years ago.

But, since I am neither as angry about Paolini nor as funny as my best friend, I’ll provide you with the Wikipedia definition, which I like quite a bit:

Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.

I had been warned about prose such as this before my best friend made me aware of the term, but I found I liked the term for the problem.  Something about the phrase “purple prose” indicates the exact problem: the overdone yuck factor of this lengthy writing.

Now, please don’t suppose that all lengthy description is purple prose, or that I hate all lengthy description.  That would be quite the hypocritical situation or a cause for massive amounts of self-loathing if that were the case.  Purple prose isn’t lengthy description, it’s unnecessary description.

Perhaps one of the best examples I can use is fan-fiction.  Fan-fiction tends to be filled with purple prose for a couple reasons: one, many websites that publish fan-fiction require chapters to have a certain amount of words (so as to prevent spamming) and two, many fan-fiction authors haven’t learned the art of trusting the reader.

Trusting the reader is one of the main causes of purple prose, I think.  If an author cannot trust a reader to a) come up with the “correct” image (and there’s a problem right there, super-insane author if there’s only one image a reader is “allowed” to have), b) come up with something close enough to the author’s intent (better), or c) have an imagination of their own to fill in purposeful gaps (ah hah!–that’s what you want), the end result of that author’s efforts is didactic writing.  Purple prose is, by nature, didactic.  It’s paint-by-number; it allows the reader to fill in the colors provided to them, but not to change–or, better yet, create–any of the lines.  Trust is paramount in the author/reader relationship and it starts from the moment writing begins.

I am one who has trouble with this (though purple prose isn’t generally my issue).  Thankfully, there’s editing.  Never fear.  As in life, trust can also develop in writing if you are not the type to trust right away.  Just make sure that you trust eventually–no one likes to be talked down to and most despise passages that are four times as long as they need to be (then again, Lord of the Rings . . .).

Another pervading reason for purple prose is scale.  As you might have guessed, I am aware of the epics the last seventy years or so, but am not an avid fan. What you may not be able to tell from this post, and I cannot blame you, is that I do so dearly appreciate these epics (even if they are somewhat disgustingly descriptive).  So, with that in mind, addressing scale.  Do you remember when Paolini announced that he couldn’t make his trilogy a trilogy?  I do.  I was furious.  As I a bibliophile and someone who liked the series well enough, you’d think I’d be happy!  But, in fact, I wasn’t.  I already felt like Paolini’s style was bordering on too descriptive.  Also, his books felt like trilogy books, and here he was breaking the last book into two parts. I’m not sure I can describe how a trilogy book feels, exactly, and for that I apologize.  The best way I can describe it is that there is a certain rhythm in the prose of a trilogy and, if Paolini had done one thing well, it was maintain that rhythm.  Breaking that pattern, that narrative flow, was not a good decision.  I knew that this couldn’t bode well for the future of the series.  Indeed, it did not.  The third book was interminable.  I’m not sure how I feel about reading the fourth book (which is taking forever to come out, a fact I take to be indicative of these same issues). 

So, coming back to how this relates to purple prose, the scale of Paolini’s plot was so grand (after all, it’s an epic) that he felt he had to write a certain way to match it.  This writing style is what has caused so many of his problems (though the blatant stealing from LOTR and Star Wars*, plus others, would still be there were he to fix the style).  Were he to have approached the epic as “just a story,” I firmly believe the books would have evened themselves out enough to maintain the trilogy that he set out to write.  Lord of the Rings, while it is well-balanced as a trilogy, has similar problems of writing on such a grand scale as to make it inaccessible to many and full of purple prose, with all due respect to Tolkein.

The last common reason I can identify for purple prose is the one my purple prose most often falls under: lack of self-control.  These authors do not think their audiences dumb or unable to imagine adequately, nor do they get caught up in the grand scope of their work.  They just cannot stop themselves from describing every last detail because every detail is of the utmost important including the color of her underskirt and what kind of fabric it’s made of and the stone the castle was built from and where the quarry is and when it was mined from it and which generation of family living in the castle the prince is and WHOA THERE, BUDDY!!!!**  The problem is, when I catch myself doing this I have a hard time deleting all that history and hard work that I’ve put into the story.  (For all I know, this could be Paolini and Tolkein’s problem, but I doubt it.)  What I end up having to do is high-lighting that work in a different color and inserting what I need in the areas it belongs (which usually ends up coming much later in the story).  What material doesn’t belong usually ends up in a separate file on my computer, waiting for le grand éditer, when hopefully they will be worked in in appropriate moments.  Some won’t make it in (it will never matter that the red sunrise turns the so-dark-green-they’re-almost-black-hills into a rich brown never seen at any other time or place). Others, however, will (it’s a good thing to know that the prince is the first generation to live in the castle, even though it was his grandfather who ordered it built–there are likely some local superstitions about the castle because of that, explore that area of the story). 

If trust is paramount to the author/reader relationship, control of self is paramount to the author/work relationship.  Trying to control the piece is a bad idea; it never works and will end up fettering your abilities while working on an already hampered piece.  However, exercising self-control will allow your abilities to expand.  Those distractions that you are prone to will be less of a temptation and fade, you will gain strength in exercising your mental muscles, you will begin to know when to allow yourself free rein and when to allow yourself a minute to write down an idea before progressing with the current one.

Purple prose is not a terminal disease for an author, although I am afraid it can kill a book.  As is most often the case for any problem in writing, it is a lack of reflection on the author’s part.  Don’t forget to self-examine.  Self-examination is the soul of growth.  No worries.  You’ll get there.

Now go write something simple. 😉


*Two things: Original trilogy and thank you Wikipedia for providing so many links in this blog!

**Props (and some sort of bonus that I’ll eventually come up with for the first person) to whomever can come up with which story of mine I am referring to in this list.  It is a bit hyperbolic and some of these items never made it into any version I posted/e-mail. However (!), if you have ever talked with me about this story, you should be able to identify the items that didn’t make it to posting as well as the story.  (And if you don’t have enough hints by now, you likely are a stranger.  Welcome, stranger!  Thanks for coming by!)

et cetera