Saturday, October 19, 2019

When no ordinary excuse will do

Not unlike most fiction writers, I'm constantly asked the same question.
"How do you come up with this stuff?"

The simple answer is, I don't. It comes to me. Every writer is different of course, but there is this common thread for those who write fiction. It starts when we're very young. When we make up our very first story.
Remember the old "the dog ate my homework" line?

With fiction writers, from a very early age, the story has a plot twist. A one-liner becomes an essay.

My homework was done but it vanished. Poof. I think the dog took it and buried it out back with his bone. Then a coyote came and dug up Sinbad's bone and leaped over the back fence with it. Well you know that old man next door is crazy and he shot that poor coyote. Even had a burial ceremony for it last night about 1am. It was a huge bonfire and they roasted that beast on a spit. I had my window open and my room still smells of smoke.

So notice several elements are in play here. In order to be convincing, there must be details. The dog has a name. We have witnesses and further crimes to distract from the homework event. And the clincher, the room smells like smoke. Evidence of the crime has been introduced.

"How did you rip your brand new shirt?"

Little Cindy was riding her trike in the road, so I ran out to bring her safely back to the sidewalk and tripped over an injured bunny. When I landed, after leaping to the side to avoid the bunny there was an old kitchen spatula laying there and my sleeve got caught on it. Luckily it wasn't too rusty though so I'm sure I won't need a tetanus shot.

What a masterful tale has been woven. By the time it's over, our little storyteller will no longer be in trouble for playing tag football at his friend's house in his dress shirt. Instead, he's rewarded for being the neighborhood hero by the parental units who are simply relieved that he won't require a trip to the ER.

Now most children's excuses are simply not that elaborate. This is where parents should be on guard. Watchful. Pay attention to your child's excuses. They may be more than an indicator of wrongdoing, they may indicate a career choice.

Not always of course. Might just indicate a supercharged imagination. Which is a fabulous trait. Encourage it. Build on it. Help your children channel that creativity into something positive.

Most of all, enjoy it. Appreciate the sheer entertainment value. Give them bonus points for effort. The next time the storyteller in your orbit, be it your child or sibling or well, anyone, gives you an incredibly tall tale as an excuse, ask them to "please write that down for me."

You might just end up with an original anthology of work by a future bestselling author.

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