Monday, April 13, 2009

Mentor Monday: Take Care When You Slice Up Life

Fledgling writers will often confuse a charming vignette for an entire story. This can happen when a writer is primarily inspired by her or his own parenting experiences. S/he is so completely in baby-love that every last thing the child does is a source of endless wonder and fascination. Who could have imagined that an untended bowl of pretzels would be selflessly shared with the family pooch? Just about anybody with a dog and a kid, that's who.

Slice-of-life stories aren't plot-heavy. Either nothing much happens, or one big (or not-so-big) thing happens, with nothing leading up to it or away from it. There's no beginning, middle or end. There's nothing to be resolved because there's no conflict. When an editor refers to a story as "quiet," this very well could be what s/he's talking about.

A story culled directly from life is usually missing that little twist which moves it beyond the ordinary. Without that twist, it's more of a reminiscence. It becomes a "remember when" moment floating around in search of an anchor. Remember when the baby shared an entire bag of pretzels with Bowzer and then they both puked on the rug? That was funny. Maybe. To some people. Humor is subjective, after all. (I think the pretzel "story" begs the question, Where were you, Mom and Dad, and aren't you glad the baby didn't share that carton of rat poison you left under the kitchen sink?)

If you're going to do a "remember when" type of tale give it a twist. Better yet, bend it completely out of proportion to the original event. Your original vs. twisted tale might look something like this.

Original: Remember when David took that cookie out of the cookie jar when he wasn't supposed to?
Twisted: Remember when David stood on the chair and climbed up to the top shelf to get the glass cookie jar you so foolishly thought was safe from his reach?

Original: Remember when David tracked mud across the living room rug?
Twisted: Remember when David was covered in dirt and had mushrooms growing out of his scalp and he tracked an entire garden across the living room rug?

Original: Remember when David took a bath and the tub overflowed?
Twisted: Remember when David took a bath, flooded the bathroom, scared his rubber ducky witless, then ran naked down the street?

Original: Remember how you wanted to just let him go but you had to chase him and catch him because if you didn't you'd be in trouble with the authorities?
Twisted: Remember how you still loved David even though he was the spawn of Satan?

(My apologies to David Shannon.)

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