Once again I would like to thank Neil MacDonald, for posting the writing exercises called Scrivener’s Forge. Please click his name for more information on Scrivener’s Forge. This month’s excise is the following –
A simple way to think about plot is as the events seen in the light of their endings. Endings are important, and one of the most difficult parts of story-telling. A good ending should be both surprising and inevitable.
Write a cracking-good ending (a paragraph or two). Then work backwards and develop the sequence of events (the plot) that leads up to this ending. Note that this may feel very artificial for writers who like to “discover” their ending in the course of writing. But it’s an exercise to help us be aware of the sequence of causes that create good endings. It’s also a great technique when you’re editing a story to do a “backwards pass” and check that you have properly motivated the ending. A “backwards pass” is exactly this process of working backwards from the ending.
This was a very challenging one for me. Luckily, I had a story that had been bouncing around in my brain, a response to a Friday Fictioneer’s photo of a pay phone I didn’t get a chance to write. Now I have the opportunity to flesh out that idea. Hope you enjoy my story.
I stomped the dust off my boots and cursed. This backwater town was strangling the life out of me. I was bored to death by the smiling faces that greeted me every day inquiring about me and my family. I was done with the dusty two lane main street that lead people in and quickly ushered them out of the tiny dot that was my home town.
When you’re young the long stretches of fields were a great place to play hide and seek. The country fairs full of corn dogs, cotton candy and stomach-churning rides were the highlight of the year. It’s funny how you can see the same things year after year then one day the familiar sights look different, almost alien.
Head down, I spent my high school years plotting my escape. My ticket out was a full scholarship at UC Berkeley. I packed my bags ignoring my mother’s hand wringing and my father’s defeated look. They had lost the long argument. The University of Nebraska was not big enough, not far enough for me. Mike, five years my junior still under the spell of life in the country, understood none of the tensions that shattered the peace in our tiny farm house.
Two days into my first semester, denying the empty feeling that stalked me from class to class and haunted my restless sleep, I called home from the dorm’s payphone for the first time. The achingly familiar sound of my mother’s voice sent tears streaming down my cheeks. The local twang, one I was struggling to hide, was a sweet song to my ears. It became an addiction. I called home once or twice a week. I would hang up, breathing a sigh of relief, shored up by knowing my one stoplight town and all its occupants still existed. I cheered the high school’s football wins, I laughed at my brother’s fumbling attempts at dating, I mourned the loss of people that had become as familiar to me as breathing. For years, I clung to the lifeline that was mounted in the hallway of the dorm.
Undergraduate and Graduate degrees led me to Silicon Valley, another new world to explore and conquer. My small-town roots, are now firmly relegated to the distant past. But I still shore up any moments of doubt and insecurity with memories of those fall fairs and Friday night football games. Payphones are now an endangered species that are rarely spotted.
But there one hung, almost impossible to resist. On my way into the truck stop, I breezed by it studiously ignoring it’s existence. On the way out, I strode confidently past it until my resolve dissolved. I turned back and stood face to face with it drowning in indecision. I watched as one hand snatched up the receiver, the other hand dropped in some coins and my fingers dialed the number from memory. I clung to the lifeline.
Whrrr click, whrrr click. The voice heard so often over the years reached deep into my soul.
“The number you have dialed is no longer in service.”
I dropped the receiver as if bit by a snake. The room twisted, I slunk to the floor. As always it came crashing back to me, the horrible day, a sunny afternoon during my senior year. The day a drunk driver changed, forever, the voice on the other end of the line.
Thanks for reading. Please click HERE to read other submissions to this month’s Scrivener’s Forge.