“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.”
—Phyllis A. Whitney

Why Something Has to Happen in Your Story

Some people write stories where nothing much happens. The main character sits around thinking of things that happened in the past. The hero doesn’t do anything heroic.

Robert McKee

Robert McKee says, “Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f***ing mind?”

The only thing that matters in your story is what the characters do. What they think, feel, or see is just the whipped cream, peanuts, and cherry on top. The ice cream, the core of your story is what they do.

Sometimes people think that to write a realistic story, they can’t have spectacle, intrigue, suffering, or excitement. I like what Robert McKee’s character in the movie Adaptation says when a screenwriter tells him he’s writing a movie where nothing much happens, just like life in the real world. McKee says:

Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f***ing mind? People are murdered every day. There’s genocide, war, corruption. Every f***ing day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every f***ing day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ’s sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life!

For your story to be realistic, something has to happen. You don’t need to have explosions, murders, or dramatic love stories, but something has to happen.

What do you think? Do all stories require something to happen? Can you think of any exceptions?

PRACTICE

Write about something happening, a story about one of the following:

  • murder
  • genocide
  • war
  • corruption
  • sacrifice
  • destruction
  • starvation
  • betrayal
  • love

Write for fifteen minutes. When the time’s up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to read and give feedback to a few other writers.

Good luck!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • A character could have a story playing in their head (that you think is real, but don’t find out until the end that it’s imaginary) that leads to an epiphany.  The world isn’t changed, but for all intents and purposes the characters world was.  That’s probably not an exception, but I do love fiction that has a psychological twist to it.

    • Good call, Cole. The Sixth Sense is probably the best well-known example of that, don’t you think? Or Inception, depending on how you read the story. In general, I think the whole it’s all in their head plot line is a cop-out. If it’s not done right, the reader can feel betrayed. But if there’s a powerful epiphany, an event (even if imagined) that leads to a transformation in the character, I think the reader will generally enjoy it. Like you, I like psychological twists, too (as long as they’re done well).

  • I was once challenged to find the “action” in a novel by an English writer famous for the fact that “nothing happens” in her stories.  But guess what?  The tension was huge.  On the surface, it seemed like the protagonist wasn’t attempting much, but in his own mind it was monstrous.  He wanted to change his life!  And it would begin by inviting a female neighbour in for tea.  Being an introvert, it just about killed him… to touch her, to brush his arm against her shoulder.  He just about died!  So, this something that happens…it depends on the viewpoint.  As you say, Joe, it’s all in the execution.   

    • Exactly, PJ! While writing this, I thought of Roberto Bolaño, the famous Chilean author. I heard an interview where another author said about him, it’s freeing for young writers to read Bolaño because nothing much happens; he just perfectly describes a mood. It was ridiculous. The story he was talking about was about a man who nearly has an affair with a married woman and is spookily confronted by her husband. Most of the action, as with the story you describe, was in the subtext. 

  • Joe! Ages ago, you wrote a blog post in which you mentioned Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story”. I was intrigued by what you wrote about the book, so I read it. Within his book, Miller mentioned Robert McKee. What he wrote got me curious, so I checked out Robert McKee. Turns out he’s doing a four-day seminar in Montreal next week. I registered for the course, booked a flight, and am so excited to go. You mentioning McKee in this post makes me even more excited! Thank you for being the catalyst for experiencing, what I feel will be, four life-changing days.

    • WOW! I want to go! That’s so cool, Wendy. Take good notes and tell me all about it afterward, okay?

    • Talk about something happening! I think it’s not just our stories but our blog posts and our very lives that must have action. If we compel someone else to action so much the better! That’s a pretty neat story in and of itself. Hope your trip is great!

    • Oddznns

      Wendy. That’s what I call Doing!

  • Oh…and by the way… that photo of Robert McKee… I often think that a writer needs to write with just that kind of intensity… or nothing indeed might happen.

  • She had no milk to feed her Ana, it had dried up the week before. There wasn’t any food. All they had grown was owed to the district lord, and even this wasn’t enough to pay the levy on their land. The crop had failed, there had been no margin to sustain the young family. There had been no grain to save for next year’s seed.
    Sirri couldn’t bear to watch Ana grow listless and waste away in hunger. She had seen the ravages of slow starvation in her neighbours’ children.
    In desperation, she made the night her ally and keeping always to the shadows on the deserted streets, Sirri entered the granary where their levy was stored. She filled a hempen sack with two pounds of barley, barely a week’s ration, but she would not be able to conceal any more under her robes.
    Sirri was almost at her door with her prize, imagining the warm porridge she would make, when a rough hand grabbed her by the arm and threw her down into the dusty street, spilling grain over her threshold.
    “Thieving demon, you will be punished. You and your girl-child.”
    When the levy had been delivered, Sirri was left to starve in the empty granary. Ana, barely one year-old was cast out into the jungle.
    More agonizing than burning hunger, Sirri feels the ache of the empty space on her breast where a little child had once nestled close.

    • This breaks my heart! Very well-written

    • Mariaanne

      That is very dramatic.  You get a lot into that small amount of words.  

  • Snuggled quietly in the stillness of the evening I cradle my drowsy infant as she nurses. The tv flickered BBC evening news. I was drifting between my thoughts and a disinterested attention to the newscaster. 

    A scene flashed across the set, stark and desperate, grabbing my attention. The reporter spoke the word Darfur. A word synonymous with death. He spoke of refugee camps and food shortages, hopelessness and disease. 

    The camera panned to a hut situated in a barren land. In the doorway a regal woman sat, dark head erect, wrapped in scarlet cloth, cradling an infant. Her black eyes pierced through the camera and into my soul. I held my breath.

    The little girl with the bloated belly laid across her lap looked to be about the same six months as my own daughter. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. 

    “If help doesn’t come these people will soon die of starvation.” The reporter’s words struck my ear and my heart with force. 

    My eyes were glued to the face of a woman in no mans land. “Even if I tried I could never find her,” I thought desperately. The story ended and I shut off the tv. Sitting alone in the darkness the image of the woman and child burned into my mind. 

    Somehow I had seen her. In the moments before her doom. Would her child be awake in the morning? Would she grieve or breath a prayer of thanks that she no longer had to watch her suffering? 

    Sorrow brimmed and spilled down my face, tracing wet tracks of compassion. Why me, why her? Why didn’t I share her fate? Why would I lay my baby down in her safe crib tonight?  

    I would brush my teeth and wash my face with warm water. I would lay down between flannel warmth, my head nestled comfortably on a soft pillow, and I would drift to sleep knowing when I awoke there would be food for tomorrow. I don’t know why. 

    I couldn’t touch that mother or help her save her baby. I’ve often wondered if help came in time. But I’ve never forgotten her. I honor her memory by giving thanks for the mercy I don’t understand. And now, when I can help, I allow compassion to become action.

    • Wow, this is so moving.  Very vivid.  I LOVE the last line – ‘I allow compassion to become action.’  yes.  

      • Thanks Zoe. Your piece was amazing. I loved the way you included the senses, almost linking them to emotion. 

    • Mariaanne

      Well done as usual Beck. I like the description of the woman and he child it is  very vivid and stands out in the my mind, making it hard for me to forget which goes along with the idea of the story.  

      • Thanks Mariaane! I’m glad I captured her well. I will never forget her face, she was beautiful and desperate all at once. It was one of the most astonishing several minutes of my life.

  • Cindy Christeson

     WAITING by Cindy
    Christeson

     

    Even though the sign above the busy door on the other side
    of the stark room said, ‘The Waiting Room’, he knew the waiting was over.

     

    The clock that quietly marched and marked the minutes
    slipping by seemed oblivious to the faster ticking of his inner clock.  And the beating of his heart.  And the pressure building inside.

     

    Time was up, the waiting was over.  Soon his loved one on the other side of the
    door down the hall would undergo a surgery that should be brief.  Should be. 

     

    Friendly words like ‘routine’ and ‘recovery’ came out of the
    smiling mouth of the doctor during that last appointment, but they battled with
    his inner fears that had ugly names such as “unexpected” and “loss”.

     

    He realized that though her cancer was likely benign, his
    inner one was malignant, and it was spreading. 

     

    He paced the room, and the images replayed in his mind.

     

     

    He fed his own cancer with his bitterness at the people who
    wronged him.  She was but one name on the
    list he added to whenever possible. 
    Besides the lengthy list, he prided himself on the many details he
    remembered.  Dates and times.  Names and wrongs.  So many wrongs.

     

    He helped it spread by setting the tables for his pity
    parties whenever he thought about the bad turn of events and bad luck that kept
    happening to him.  Him.  Surely he deserved better.

     

    Each wrong, each stroke of bad luck had become a shutter
    over a window to the world, and he just kept pounding nails making them more
    secure.  Each nail and each window
    blocked his view of others.

     

    He paced that room with the stale air and the old
    magazines.  He sat at the farthest corner
    from that sign.    It seemed like he was
    always waiting, but nothing good seemed to come his way.

     

    He watched a couple holding hands,  leaning in towards each other, their tears
    running together.  They looked
    worried.  But they looked connected.  They seemed to be praying. 

     

    He looked at the time again.

     

    This time he wondered what he would do if the bad fears came
    to life.  What if?    Then what? 
    And how…?

     

    He stopped his pacing. 
    He sat back down and let the tears come. 
    He tried some praying of his own.

     

    He felt some inner nails budge, some shutters splinter and
    fall away.  A bit more light coming in to
    his heart.

     

    He looked at the clock once again, and smiled.  He realized her surgery was over.  But his was just beginning.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • This is really good, Cindy.  I love the juxtaposition of the two surgeries.   

  • Jonathan Mzinde tapped his daughter’s head right before he walked out on his family.  His shoes held together with glue had come undone and the sole was flapping as he left his wife and child for a city he’d never known.  His daughter hung on to her mother’s skirt, pressing her face into the faded yellow daffodils.  Although she was only five, she knew.  

    Jonathan steadied himself by looking at the parched sky and knowing that his daughter would soon see it differently.  For one, she wouldn’t have to see the white clouds spying on her through that crack in the roof.  

    The bag on his back was light.  Too light.  It troubled him that it was the only thing he took from his past to his future.  But of course, he would buy things in the city.

    Aaah, The City.  Where people come back driving their own shining cars with smiles that glint in their car’s reflections.  The City where you get paid for every days sweat.  The City where clothes are crisp and milk isn’t warm.  Where people aren’t lulled to sleep because their dreams have gone silent.  

    Johannesburg, Egoli. Place of Gold.  

    As Jonathan walked, he watched he village change shape with the approaching sunrise.  The sound of Jonathan Mzindes shoes woke the dogs and then the children.  Soon the hills were full of barks that sounded like warnings, and dopey children emerged out of their huts and watched the figure walk away.

    But the Jonathan ignored the spectators.  He stepped towards the rock that was the bus stop and sat on it.  It was cold and hard.  He missed his special cushion, and the smell of his wife’s soap that was strongest when she was pounding sudza.  But he could not think of these things.  Gold light from the sun broke the darkness and roosters crowed their greetings.

    So he imagined how the sun shone upon the golden buildings, and if the gold was warmer than mud huts. 

    • This was amazing! I especially loved your paragraph on “The City.” What am I saying? I loved it all, the detail, the little nuanced descriptions such as, “Soon the hills were full of barks that sounded like warnings, and dopey children emerged out of their huts and watched the figure walk away.” AND “He stepped towards the rock that was the bus stop and sat on it.”

      You’re either a really good writer or I’m just too easily impressed 🙂

      • Aaah thanks so much, Tom!!  Much appreciated!

    •  Again, wonderful writing.  I love this line.
      Although she was only five, she knew. 

      Perfect.

    • Oddznns

      Wonderful Zoe (no longer Zo Zo). NOthing else to say about it. This whole scene is about doing/dreaming. I can anticipate how the dreams are going to break down already.

    • Mariaanne

      I like this and don’t think he is going to be in a better place and that’s why the dogs are barking. Is that right? Things are warm and loving at home although poor and then he sits on the cold rock bound for the city that we all know is not golden. Very well  done.  

      • Thanks, Mariaanne 🙂 – yes, that’s exactly what I was intending.  An unfortunate dilemma in our country.

    • Mirelba

      Beautiful!  So many nice lines, really strong writing.  I especially liked:  Where people aren’t lulled to sleep because their dreams have gone silent, and of course the
      barks sounding like warnings.  Reading this made me think of the traditional longing for America, the land referred to in Yiddish as “die goldene medina” (the golden country).  However, compared to what awaited them in Europe, it certainly was…  Don’t think your story is going to end quite the same way.

      And now I’ve really got to get lunch ready otherwise no hike!

  • Good point!  I think my problem with writing stories is like my problem with ice-cream: I can’t stand plain vanilla, so I want to add as much cherries, nuts and chocolate as possible… and my ice-cream’s mostly added extras… *lights go on*

    • Oddznns

      I love your extras. They give me a feel for the place.

      • Thanks Oddznns! 🙂   Sometimes they are just right, and sometimes they overpower – the importance of practise, hey?!

  • Sonja grabbed her slutty novel and settled into the chaise lounge that overlooked their infinity pool. Her darkening skin glistened with a fresh layer of coconut-scented sunscreen as she squinted toward the horizon and counted the sailboats. The royal palms flanking the honeymoon cottage hula’d in the tropic breeze. She sighed contently. Heaven.

    As she opened her book, she noticed a shadow hovering over her.

    “Honey, could you please move? You’re blocking the sun,” she said as sweetly as possible.

    Her new husband ignored her request and moved closer.

    “Seriously, Doug, I can’t see to read, please move.”

    But by this time, he was nudging his way next to her on the spacious chair. Sonja recognized the glimmer in his eye and sighed again; this time out of frustration. She tried to ignore him.

    “Oh, Sonja,” Doug said with a sing-songy tone. “I have an idea.” He was turned towards her, his head resting on his raised arm. She caught a whiff of his hairy armpit, but didn’t say anything.

    “I’m gonna give you a choice,” Doug continued. “We can either go on a hike up to the falls or we can have sex in the pool. What do you say?” Doug grinned like a 15-year-old trying to bargain with his parents for either a new laptop or a new car.

    Sonja kept her finger on her page as she closed her book and answered. “Honey, I love you, but you are wearing me out. I promise to make it up to you tonight, if you would just let me read my book for a few hours in peace.” 

    Doug’s grin disappeared.

    “Why don’t you go hike to the falls and scope it out?” Sonja suggested. “Then I promise I’ll go with you tomorrow. And maybe, if there’s no one around, just maybe, we’ll do at the falls what you were hoping to do in the pool,” Sonja winked. 

    The slightest hint of that possibility was all it took for Doug to perk up and leave his bride in peace for the afternoon. He kissed Sonja goodbye and with one last, “remember you promised,” headed for the trail. 

    Doug was not much of an outdoorsman but he had never seen a waterfall up close and was curious enough to endure the one-and-a-half mile hike through the dense rainforest.  But about ten minutes into his hike he realized flip-flops were not best for hiking the muddy and steep terrain, yet he was too far committed to turn around. He walked another twenty minutes before coming up to a sign posted next to the trail. It read, “Experienced hikers only.” Doug could hear the falls just over the next hill. He could smell the petrichor of the water vapors clinging to the foliage and it beckoned him to continue. 

    Doug was admiring the double rainbow above just as he realized he was at the edge of a steep ravine, but before he had time to turn around he began to slide downward. As he realized he was sliding faster and faster, out of control, he tried to stop by sitting down. He turned his feet sideways hoping to drive a wedge into the slick mud, but he kept descending. He could feel the knob of his flip-flop strap press harder against his big toe until finally the strap broke loose, sending him even faster down the muddy trail. He desperately reached out for any tree or sapling nearby that would hopefully keep him from careening down the steepening ravine, but nothing would hold him. He would only end up with green leaves crushed inside his tightening fists. It was then he realized he was no longer on the trail but was, instead, sliding down an ever growing stream of water that was soon to merge with the waterfalls below him. 

    •  Great action, Tom.  I love when the flip-flop broke.  Just one thing stopped me and that was the wife reading a slutty book and then not wanted to have sex with her husband.  Does that make sense? 

      Anyway, great story.  I love how the husband walks into the trouble so blindly.  The leaves in his hands are a wonderful detail. 

      • Haha! I thought about that Marla, but I decided that she was so worn out from the real thing on her honeymoon, she wanted to go back to fantasy sex for the afternoon.

        •  Well, there you go.  Thanks for clearing that up for me. 

    • Oddznns

      Hi Tom
      Great writing as usual. There isn’t a link back though to conflict at the beginning of the story (want sex, later darling scene).  That would have tied it up wonderfully. Say, just a little thought about how it might have been better to do it in the pool.

    • Mariaanne

      That’s good Tom. I thought he was going to scope out the hiking trail and she was going to not have sex the next day and go on the walk instead and he was going to push her down the ravine.  I think I’ve been reading too many stories with murders in them maybe.  I like the details in this too and they way he is kind of goofy and repulsive and menacing at the same time.

    • You write well.  I like it.

  • § starvation

    Little Anthony sits quietly at his desk doing nothing. Well,
    maybe it isn’t doing him justice to be called “Little Anthony” anymore; in part
    because, quite frankly, he’s not so little anymore. And the former bearer of
    the “Big Anthony” title has been passed away for more than a decade.

     

    It was a surprise to everyone. Big Anthony passed away right
    before Little Anthony’s eyes, leaving the child and his mother without anything
    to show for his short existence. Little Anthony dutifully helped his mother
    overcome her grief. The boy withstood much pain without much complaint.

     

    But those who suffer in silence often suffer the most
    severely. The symptoms hid themselves until the boy could finally act out. When he began his first job at the tender age of 14, no one expected
    that his first proud purchase would be an ice cream sundae.

     

    That was years ago. Now he sits in the corner office in
    silence, staring down at his desk. His computer monitors off. His phone won’t
    be ringing. It’s lunch time and he is choosing to sit this one out.

     

    380 pounds later, Little Anthony realized he postponed his
    sadness and it came back to haunt him. He buried himself in something else. And
    now he is determined to dig himself out.

    •  I love that Little Anthony is big.  Such a good story.

    • Mariaanne

      That was good. I like the last paragraph the best.  

  • Hey Joe, I am sure I’ve mentioned before the 100th monkey concept; when one of us comes up with a great idea, sooner or later the same concept strikes the rest of us. Sometimes it happens sooner rather than later. I only received Larry Brook’s newsletter last night, in which he poses himself the question he wishes someone would ask him; what one quote he would like left behind as his legacy, ‘carved in stone, in the marble archways of every library’, and it was, “The enlightened writer of fiction understands that you’re not writing about something… as much as you are writing about something happening.”

    • Mariaanne

      That’s an interesting coincidence.  

    • Mmm… great quote. I love that, Yvette. It’s amazing how these things intertwine. Thanks for sharing.

      • I find this happens a lot actually, Joe. I’m sure the bloggers out there aren’t swapping notes, but it’s amazing how often there seems to be a theme shared between you all each week!

        • Sometimes we do swap quotes on Twitter. Although, I’m not sure why Larry and I were on the same thought process today.

  • Juliana Austen

    Jack wriggled his fingers in front of his eyes but it was dark, so black he could not see them. There were no lights this far down in the tunnel system and it was cold. He held his breath and listened. There was the sound of water dripping but nothing else. Sound magnified down here, he knew, it bounced and echoed – you could never be sure where it was coming from. Swiftly, counting his steps he felt the wall where the opening should be – his instinct and his preparation were good. He wriggled through the opening and into the cavern and stopped to listen again.
    This time there were footsteps – loud – the sound of heavy steel-capped boots striking the  concrete floor as they ran, He had been lucky to get as far as he had. So long as they hadn’t brought the dogs he should still have time. He could risk a light now, he fumbled with the candle stub from his pocket – his hands were cold but the dim light showed him the lantern and once that was lit he could see the huge dimensions of this cave flooded with sea water. The tide was right, the boat was there and he could see the rush of water through the opening to the outside world. Every night of the last year and more he had come here, repairing the hull he had found, fashioning oars, stealing canvas for sails. Everything came down to this, this moment when he was going to get away. He heard the dogs barking, baying now their paws scrabbling at the entrance. Get away or die in the attempt.

    •  Wow.  What a great scene!  The tension is perfect.  I love the line about them not bringing the dogs.  Sets everything else up.

    • Mariaanne

      This if good  I like the darkness that you create. I just wonder where he is escaping from. 

      • Juliana Austen

        I wish I knew!!! Isn’t that just part of the joy of writing? Finding out what happens next or how it came about. I may have to spend more time with Jack.

  • There is nothing to do in Frogtown. Not a movie
    theater.  Not a bowling alley.  Nada. 
    So we’re hanging out at Little River, which is really a lake, go figure,
    and it’s the kind of night you dream about. 
    The sky is freckled with stars, the big dog of Sirius straight above us,
    shining like a headlight.  I still have
    four wine coolers in a bucket of ice in the back of the truck.  Sid Tompkins is beside me, and I feel like
    you do right before lightning strikes, all electric and shimmery.

    Already, Sid’s pulled his boots off and he’s ditching his
    jeans.  His shirt comes off, the snaps
    popping like fireworks.  He’s standing
    before me, six foot two inches of trouble, wearing only a cowboy hat and yellow
    boxers with a smiley face on them.

    Sid points to the rope that’s tied to the limb of a pin oak.

    “Watch this,” he says, and he shimmies up the tree, takes
    the old rope in his hands, and jumps.

    The crash of the water rings through the air.  Sid is whooping, throwing his arms up in the
    air.  I can hear him better than see
    him. 

    He calls out.  “Get on
    in here.”

    I am not a good swimmer. 
    I had a dream when I was six that I drowned in Little River, and I never
    recovered.  So when I swim, I do it like
    someone chased by a shark, a lot of gasping for air, and flailing arms. 

    But tonight I’m willing to try.  I chug down the last of the raspberry wine
    cooler and start to peel off my clothes.

    Flip Flops.

    Jean shorts.

    T-Shirt.

    I stand under the stars and feel the breeze, a blessing on a
    night when it’s still registering 94 degrees. 
    I am proud of my body tonight, even my breasts that quit growing when I
    was twelve.  Tonight I feel perfect.

    I climb the pin oak, swinging easily onto the lowest
    limb.  I’m a little lightheaded, thanks
    to the alcohol, and I shudder when I reach the next limb.  I grab the rope anyway; it’s as thick as a
    horse’s tail after it’s been braided.  I
    shut my eyes and lean back as far as I can. 
    And then I lunge against the rope and start to fall. 

    You can’t not scream when you hit the water.  So I do. 
    For a second I feel the way I do when I’m driving my Charger 100 miles
    an hour down Hobbtown Road.  Risky and
    defiant triumphant. And then I try to touch bottom. 
    I can’t.  I am trashing now, all
    arms and legs, and little cries I don’t think anyone can hear.  I gulp water and start to choke.  And then I plummet again, and take in more of
    the Little River. This is just like my dream. 
    Thrash, thrash, sink, sink. Funeral.

    And then Sid is beside me. 
    “Calm the hell down, Jonelle,” he shouts, and I try, I really try, but I
    can’t.

    I feel his arm around my waist.  He’s treading water, his strong legs
    bicycling beneath me.

    “Stop moving,” he says, and somehow I do.

    I am perfectly still.

    “Look up,” he says, and I look up at him. 

    “You got nothing to be scared of.”

    I am pressed up against him, my body tight as a fist.

    “Relax,” he says. “I got you.”

    I am crying now, a big mess of tears, and Sid is swimming
    with me, pulling me to shore, and I can see the limestone cliffs that rise
    above Little River, white as winter in the moonlight.  The air smells like carnations, although I
    don’t know why.  It should smell like
    honeysuckle on a night like this.

    “It’s okay,” he says, gentler than I have ever heard him.

    And then we are on the bank, our bodies pale in the bright
    night.  He brushes my hair off my face.

    “What in tarnation, Jonelle.”

    “I ain’t a great swimmer,” I say, through little half-sobs. 

    “You could have told me.”

    “I didn’t know how.”

    Sid rubs my shoulders.

    “You remember back in seventh grade,” he asks.  “Back when my daddy got sent off for cooking
    meth on the headstones down at Fairview Cemetery.  And I come back to school after all that
    mess, Daddy on the news every night for a week, and nobody’d talk to me, not
    even Bobby Spencer, who was always saying he was going to go off to Africa and
    be a missionary.”

    “Sure,” I say.

    “And then one day I seen you in the hall. You had on a pink
    dress.  And army boots. And I looked you
    in the eye, thinking you’d turn away. 
    God, everybody was turning away. 
    But you stared right back at me, and then you reached out and touched my
    arm and we stood like that till the late bell rang.”

    “I didn’t care about what your daddy did,” I say.

    “You were the only one.”

    I was shivering through, sitting there in my underclothes on
    the bank of the muddy lake.  Sid ran to
    the truck and brought the quilt and the wine coolers and the beer he had in the
    front seat.

    The night was loud with tree frogs.

    He spread out the quilt. 
    He opened me a wine cooler. He took a swig of his beer.

    “My clothes,” I said, and Sid shook his head.

    “Not yet,” he said.  “You
    look too good.”

    He sat down beside me, his ankles crossed and his knees
    pulled up.  His hair was long as mine,
    and he had a tattoo of a snake that circled his left arm, from wrist to
    shoulder. 

    “I wouldn’t let nothing happen to you, Jonelle,” he
    says.  “I want you to know that.”

    “I do,” I say, and it sounded like I was signing off on
    something, though I didn’t yet know what.

    And then he bent down to kiss me, and the tree frogs were
    singing, and the sky opened up, and the quilt was like a cloud that carried us away.

     
     

    • Oddznns

      Falling into a creek and into a relationship. This story is perfect Marla. You can do a whole book of short stories with all your “practices’.

      • Marla

        Thank you! You’re so kind.

    • Oh I love the summer and magic and shine of this piece!  Summer is my favourite season and you’ve captured something of it’s glory for me.  

      • Marla4

        Thank you!

  • Oddznns

    Joe, you are so right that something has to happen in a story. 

    But sometimes, the thing that happens is small, imperceptible from the outside. Not mur­der, geno­cide, war, cor­rup­tion, sac­ri­fice, destruc­tion, star­va­tion, betrayal, love …

    Beck’s for example is really about a change in perception from compassion to action, Marla’s is about a declaration of love (not falling in love itself, which happened a while back) and Cindy’s about one moment of reconciliation with God.

  • This post really got my writing juices flowing. It prompted me to write a blog post along these lines. I hope it’s okay to share two pieces!
    ***
    There are people around us, everywhere, that need to be seen. Sure we notice their clothes, designer or dirty; skin, white or black or a thousand other shades; stuff, Apple or knock off. But do we see what God sees. An image bearer?

    There’s a little boy next door, four years worth of pain old. His solemn eyes make him look older. He’s cautious, as skittery as a stray puppy. It took him a whole weekend to finally smile at me and it felt like I’d struck gold. It took even longer for him to talk and when he did I knew why. It’s painful to my ears, it must be torture to his own, to hear the words jerk out. 

    When Chris hears him speak he looks at me confused. One day when I answered back Chris whispered, “how did you understand that, did he actually say something?” It’s taken me weeks to learn the rhythm and I do a lot of guessing but it’s worth trying. I want him to know he has a voice and not be afraid to use it.

    I shudder to think of the teasing he may endure. The wounds that will dig deep into that little heart, tracing back over existing scars. I see a small boy being swallowed up into a tough man with clenched fists, but the little boy will remain, buried deep, aching. I imagine he will look a lot like his daddy; a little boy who’s so afraid that he drinks too much and yells, who beat’s his whatever she is, wife or girlfriend I don’t know which anymore. I pray love will intervene and that won’t be the case, oh I hope it won’t be, but it feels like a long shot.

    Now he crosses the street and walks on in to my house, without saying a word, and makes himself at home. He smiles at me and sometimes he holds my hand. And tonight as he walked through the kitchen where I was making dinner he stuck up his hand and said “bye.” I reached out and hugged him. Then he kept on his way out the back door. It could have been my imagination but I thought I heard, “I uv ooh,” tossed over his shoulder. “I love you,” I shouted back. And I do.

    Seeing people is worth the sacrifice of comfort. It’s easier to look away from the mess or pain or whatever. But seeing is a gift and only when we take time to see are we able to take time to act. Seeing comes first, it’s where we start. Have you allowed yourself to see those around you lately, really see? Who do you turn your eyes away from?

    • Marla

      What a beautiful lesson. I feel humbled.

  • The photo of that guy is intense… wow.  The expression on his face speaks a multitude.  I imagine he had a rough life and been through some hard stuff.

    • Robert McKee IS intense. 

      • I just looked him up… oh my… I would be scared stiff having him for a teacher. 

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  • I loved this article, though I didn’t like his language to much. Very effective point. And I always want to participate in your writing assignments, but typically read the posts days later and don’t have time at that moment.

  • Daniel Lynch

    Uakari

    I hadn’t seen true sunlight in days, the jungle was too thick. In this dense environment there was no clear path to follow. The only way forward was to cut your way. My machete was my only friend; helping me cut vines, foes and food. The blade was my protector, and I never let it loose from my hand.

    Each day I felt as if I had only progressed one or two miles. Each painful moment I regretted leaving the path for that one special picture of the Amazon. That photo would win me win awards, if only I could make it out of this towering maze of vegetation.

    After another exhausting day, I decided to to pack up for the night when I heard a faint cry in the distance. Like a cough or a wheeze; or something in-between. It repeated every few moments. I figured that the source of the sound would not cause any harm, so I forced my way through the thick greenery toward the cries. I seemed to progress faster now, knowing that I had a new goal, my old goal of escaping the jungle was fast becoming a dream.

    As the groans of the animal became louder, I noticed that the voice was almost human. I carved the final vine before the beast and found a dying monkey. Its face was red but not with anger or blood, it was a Uakari; a rare crimson faced primate. I had read about these animals, they were fast becoming extinct.

    I took the selfish opportunity to take a photo of the poor beast, knowing it sell if sold to the right people, if I survive. I approached the monkey and it did not cower as I had expected. It was as if nothing could be worse than death to the poor creature. I looked down at its hide of thick brown fur, matted with blood. It had a bullet hole through its right arm.

    I had to help the him, I thought as I ripped my shirt into strips. I wrapped the cloth around the bicep of the beast, doing my best to stem the bleeding. The primate looked up at me with its cool black eyes, a smile spread across its wide mouth. I could not help but smiling down at the Uakari, tears swelling in my eyes. He was a beautiful brute, no wonder they were poached for their skins.

    “You’re okay mate, I’m here now.” I whispered.

    I cradled him in my arms, trying to bring calm to his world. That was when I heard the loud cracking sound. Splinters flew off a close-by tree. A second crack sounded, and the jungle around me turned to red.

    Then black.

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