September 25th, 2007

Okay, Universe—I GET It!

This past weekend I did some extensive gardening. The kind that involved balancing on the edge of a spade and shimmying until it at last sank into the ground. (I don’t know what kind of grass other people have on their lawns, but the kind I have requires cutting with a spade, and then popping out of the ground in six- or eight-inch-deep chunks. Fun stuff!)


I hauled dirt-and-grass blocks to the trashcan, and momentarily worried about how I would haul said trashcan to the curb come garbage day. But I was really more focused on planting flowers in the nice deep holes I’d made, so I let my worries go.


But today is garbage day. Judgment day, if you will.


At 5:37 a.m. (approximately), I placed my foot on the bottom of the bin and pushed, expecting the thing to tip back onto its wheels like it always does. But it didn’t. (I’m not kidding—those blocks are superheavy!)


So I kicked harder. Still nothing.


I kicked harder. And this time something happened. It took me a second before I realized exactly what had happened, but pretty soon it was clear to me.


I was sprawled on the cold concrete. Pinned beneath the trashcan. Because it had fallen on me.


Now: this is exactly the kind of thing that happens to me all the time. And yet, I was surprised—because this specific thing has never happened to me before.


Eventually I managed to rip my leg free. But then there was another problem: how to stand the stupid trashcan back up?


All this made me think, once again, of my fictional characters. I have long feared that I go too easy on them—that the happy ending I intend for them is way, way too clear from the get-go, that the troubles I allow them to tentatively edge around are too mild to give them—or the reader—any real sense of danger. So, just as I did the other day, I am using this morning’s experience as a guideline for the finalfinalREALLYfinal draft of my MG fantasy.


  1. The character has a task to do (taking the trashcan to the curb).
  2. Trouble ensues (the trashcan won’t move).
  3. The character tries harder (kicking the trashcan) and
  4. Ends up in worse trouble than before (pinned beneath the trashcan).
  5. After brainstorming various ways of getting out of trouble (calling the neighbors, chewing off my leg), the character weasles free (sqeeeeeeeezing the leg out from beneath the trashcan) and
  6. Ends up with a bigger problem than before (at least the trashcan was upright at the beginning!).
  7. Resolving this problem forces the character to do something she was trying to avoid (removing numerous dirt-and-grass blocks from the trashcan), but in the end
  8. The problem is solved (trashcan safely at curb; blocks safely re-installed within it).
  9. Also: the character realizes later that the problem-solving experience has changed her in unexpected ways (I didn’t realize until I was actually at the store that I was covered in mud. Sigh).

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