Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make It Grand

by Elizabeth

I haven't even looked at my photos yet.

A couple of weeks ago we piled the kids, a twelve-pack of Diet Coke and a bag of snacks into the car, then drove west to pursue the American Dream of visiting the Grand Canyon. En route, we stopped by the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, less known but still awesome national treasures I'm pleased our government is smart enough to own and preserve.

That day, overlooking her first vista of the Painted Desert--purple to pink pyramids stacked by time--my daughter drew a breath and wondered if the Canyon could possibly compare to this. "It's breathtaking," I swear my ten-year-old said, breathing deeply. (She's working on irony.) "Wait," I said, both a tease and a promise.

Turns out the canyon was visited by the Spanish explorers way back in the 1500s, guys whose names you once heard in Western Civ and maybe forgot once exams were over. Mistrusted by the local Indians (duh), they were led on long and nearly fruitless journeys to finally see the canyon depths--and quickly realizing the difficulty descension would require, and the likely lack of gold within (and how would you ever get it out?), they discarded one of the Seven Wonders of the World as more or less useless land, and never bothered to return.

We felt differently. Did it possibly compare? You bet it did. And when she first approached the canyon's edge and peered down into its mile depth, my little girl's breath really was taken away and it was long seconds before I heard her wondering exhale.

When we got home, we found we'd been burgled. (Go ahead and laugh at the silliness of the word, but it's correct, and a police officer thanked me for using it.)

And that's one way to keep things going in books, too. Take your reader someplace new, and dazzle them. Then take it to the next level, to something so big it can't even be comprehended. And then drop the unexpected on them.

I don't recommend having your house broken into, not at all, but life sometimes provides a great example to keeping your story fresh. I heard something just like this at the first conference I ever attended. I can't say I thought about that as I rushed to check what the intruders had taken (thankfully, very little; cops speculated they got spooked and cut it short), I did later. Raise the stakes, keep things surprising, fresh, fresh, fresh.

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