Here in fly-over winterland, we are anticipating a winter storm. Our weather radio–cranked with a whirr, whirr every two minutes–has voices that sound like Yukon Yukes, drawling, then clamping their jaws.
I go out early to the postal box, intent on mailing letters before the “blowing and drifting.” It’s warmish, near 40 above zero. To you in Florida, this means a chuckle. To you in Mexico, it means almost nothing. To us after weeks of below zero, not just below freezing, but way below zero–20, 30 below, it means an increase of 50 degrees. A heat wave.
With heat comes melting. I wear my usual “waffle stompers” laced up tight against twisted ankles, but still, I pick my way very carefully, noticing a strange shift in the “plot” of Summit Avenue’s wealthy (Fitzgerald’s avenue of American architectural “monstrosities). For weeks as I’ve strolled through intermittent snows, I’ve been cursing these well-to-do for doing nothing with their sidewalks. Snow built up and was trod upon, leaving depressions where heels sank, and small peaks where snow refroze. When it was colder and snow kept replenishing itself, these slogs coated feet with snow, making every step heavier and heavier. I cursed nastier and meaner. Would I call the ombudsman? Would I call the city council, the police, the mayor’s office?
Now with the peaks and valleys frozen, these former slogs offer at least some traction, as opposed to slanting, snow-free walks which are slick with slippery melt.
The plot thickens. Recently I’ve been tutored on plot. My fiction is too character-ridden. It stalls. Readers (at least some of them) don’t seem to feel a forward motion. “You need to think plot,” instructs my guide, a well-published fiction writer herself.
Eyes on the changeable sidewalks, careful not to slip, fall, break, I peruse plot and how the shift of even one element can change how others act and react. A mother goes berserk and kills a comatose child, unleashing a maelstrom of accusations, incarcerations, the threat of the electric chair. While in the background, her husband, also the damaged child’s father, is struck dumb by his placid wife’s act. He is stricken almost to the point of immobility. The other children wander aimlessly through their small lives, surviving on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, being helped to the school bus and taken in on weekends by worried neighbors. And the mother who’s also a lawyer as she discloses in prison–hers is perhaps the most interesting transformation. She feeds fellow prisoners ideas to challenge their sentences. She, a well-educated, wealthy white woman, takes up with the poor, with drug addicts, African-American and other races. She almost forgets her husband and other children, she almost forgets the child she killed “out of mercy.”
Maybe you see what I mean. Change one element and chart the consequences. Now I have to decide that that element will be. That is, unless I’m too in love with what I’ve already written, with the words I struggled so hard to craft, to let them go!