At the beginning of August I took a 6 day backpacking trip with my husband along the coast of Washington in the Olympic National Forest. I’d never spent so much time by the ocean before, especially not so close. We were hiking on the beach, by the timing of the tides, with the roar of the surf constantly in our ears. We walked through the mist of the ocean waves for those 6 days.
And I did not write.
I took no notebook, no electronic device that I could type upon. I had a pencil, yes, and maps upon which I could have written, if desperate, but I did not. I had a voice recorder, but some hesitation or shyness restricted my use of it to when I was alone and relaxing – that only happened twice on the whole trip.
But I did dream about story.
I came to a bit of a realization that one of the things that I like about stories is the epic misunderstanding. In my dream, I had been hunted by a man for a long time, and over the course of that hunt, we had fallen in love. But he was driven by duty to kill me, and, when I bested him for the last time, he killed himself rather than fail. His brother was an evil tyrant who thought that I had killed the man, and so now felt an even more personal reason to have me killed. An overly simple kind of plot that a dream can spit out, but one that illustrates the way that misunderstandings can make a story more tense, tighter.
I kind of hate it when a story could be resolved if the characters just talked to one another, believed one another, trusted one another… But that dream made me realize that I also love that kind of story – as long as the reasons that they can’t resolve their issues aren’t contrived. I want to be able to believe that Don and Mary really can’t tell each other their true feelings, or that any interruptions to planned revelations are story-necessary.
Hate it or love it, when its done well that kind of layering makes a story interesting to me. So that’s the kind of thing that I should be practicing in my writing. Characters who care, who make you care, and who can’t, for good reason, be honest with each other, which leads to real consequences. Just a piece of the puzzle, but one that fits.