ISWG | The Fork in the Road

I’m walking through Writing Forest, on a straight, forward dirt path. It’s rocky at times, and steep and treacherous, but I have my hiking gear with me and I keep going. Up the hillside of Rising Action Mountain; I have tied myself with my Outline Rope to a gnarled, twisted tree at the first plateau. I keep going. I walk through a stretch of forest, hearing the birds sing, avoiding the warrens of plot bunnies and the creek whose water will be sure to wipe the ideas from your brain and leave you just waiting for the next novel.

And then I come to the fork in the road. The Supply Trees, whose bark has been silver as I walked under their protective shade, have now turned a sickly, normal brown. I look down, and see I have run out of sheets of paper. My pencil, too, is gnarled and distended, like the roots of a tree. I walk forward and place my hands on the bark, trying to strip some of it off. Paper, they call it where I come from. I attempt to snap a twig from the side of the tree, to fashion and use as a sort of quill, dipping it in the tree’s inky sap. But there is none. There is no sap in the knothole of the trunk, no quill snapping from the tree, no paper in my hands. The Supply Tree has refused to supply me.

I walk to the other fork, panicking now. This tree, too, refuses to give me paper, pen, or ink. I stare down at the pages of my manuscript. I sit down carefully on the forest floor just before the fork, and a bird flies down from her perch and settles on the half-finished novel. She is a Counter Bird, as I can tell from her blue shading and white and brown undertones. She sits and looks around for a few seconds; her eyes have brown irises, and she looks at my manuscript as if seeing beyond it.

“Forty-two thousand, two hundred twenty-six words.” The words are a chirp from her beak. She turns, shuffles her wings, looks at me. She blinks, blue eyelids suddenly covering her chocolate eyes. “Forty-two thousand, two hundred twenty-six words.” She looks at me, as if seeing intelligently. Then her feet alight from my lap and she flies off into the treetops once more. I look up.

I had heard of these when I had set off from my home; forks in the road.

“If you are lucky, very, very, very lucky,” the old Storyteller says gravely. “Then you will never come to a Fork in the Road.”

“And if you are not?” I ask, my breath catching in my throat.

“You must Choose,” he says simply.

Now, standing in the middle of the road, I close my eyes. The moment has come. I must Choose. To the right lies my protagonist’s death; to the left, a happily-ever-after. My heartbeat thrums in my chest. I can hear it, a pounding in my ears. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. My eyes open. A plot bunny sits in front of me, tempting me with its inquisitive looks. I ignore it. One, two, three, four. I know what I must Choose.

I must become a Storyteller, and I must Choose right.

I stand and step to the fork in the road. I am still unsure of my decision.

My foot steps right. My other follows.

I look around myself. There are no plot bunnies. The road behind me has vanished. The Counter Bird is still there, high up in the treetops, singing her song: “Word-count, word-count, word-count.”

I look at the trees, and a smile spreads slowly across my face.

Their branches have turned silver again.

I have Chosen right.


As you may have been able to tell, my writing insecurity for this month is choices. I don’t really know where the story came from, or even what the main character’s name is (maybe she’s me? Let’s just call her Ellie for now) but I liked the idea and the fact that I could use it to illustrate my insecurity. Even in this piece alone, I was faced with a lot of choices, a lot of forks in the road. I was wondering whether to use the story of the Storyteller and Ellie as her recalling the event or as a flashback. I think I decided on flashback, because it was much easier to do and since the memory is only three lines long, I thought it might be safe to use.

I’m always afraid of the choices I have made for my characters, or, rather, the choices they’ve made for themselves. I try to follow my Outline Rope, but it doesn’t always work; sometimes, my rope frays. I get really scared of choices in my stories, especially choices that will affect the entire rest of it, like Ellie’s choice: if the protagonist dies, that means she dies. There is no coming back for her. There will be no sequels. But maybe the happily-ever-after isn’t as important to Ellie and her protagonist.

I know the happily-ever-after isn’t so important to me.

Do what you think is right. Be like Ellie. It doesn’t matter what others think of your choices. She killed her protagonist. Maybe you won’t like it when you read her book. But Ellie–she’ll love it.

This past week, I’ve reviewed and interviewed Ellen Cooney and her book, The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances. Monday was also my WordPress anniversary! Books and Bark is now one year old. πŸ˜€

Also read this on Goodreads.Β 

22 responses to “ISWG | The Fork in the Road

  1. I almost made one of my character’s die as an easy way to get the main character to be with someone else, then I realized it’s too easy. And maybe too expected. I am so glad I didn’t but if I did, I probably would have been so depressed and the story would have been crap.

  2. Very descriptive! I enjoyed your post. Sound like you have a good eye for the plot bunnies and forks in the road. I’ll predict a very successful writing career ahead for you πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Anya! I often have trouble with my forks (lol, sounds like I have problems with my eating utensils πŸ˜› ), which is why I chose to write this… the story just sort of erupted. πŸ˜€ I would hope so myself πŸ™‚

    • Thanks πŸ˜€
      Yep–when we read Great Expectations in school, we read both versions of the ending–I preferred the original (sadder). I think a lot of people prefer the happier endings, but endings aren’t always happy, are they? I like to be true to real life, although it isn’t always so gleeful πŸ™‚

  3. This was really creative πŸ™‚ It reminds me of my favorite poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Although with writing, if you pick one road and it doesn’t work out, then you can usually walk back and choose the other one. It’s just a lot more work. I have no problem killing characters if I think it’s in the best interest of the story. But if you kill off too many people, it can become a bit tiring in a way. Like the video game, “The Walking Dead.” Nearly everyone dies. So the deaths aren’t quite as shocking as the series goes on. I’m anticipating everyone but the protagonist dies, always. There is quote from the movie, The Last Unicorn, “There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.” After the last page of a novel, the characters still go on living. That’s part of why fanfiction is so popular, lol. Sad stories tend to stay with me a lot longer than the happy ones. They make us think and reflect. They also make us realize how well we have bonded with a character.

    • Actually, I thought of “The Road Not Taken” as I wrote this. I think there was a mention of silver birch trees in it (it’s been three years since I last read it), so that’s where that come from. Yes… I think that if you choose right the first time, it’s a lot easier to obtain that objective of Storyteller, though. So sort of the same thing… I wanted to make the choice really dynamic, in a way. It might have to do with the fact that I feel like if I make a choice in the character’s life, I have to follow through with it the whole way, right to the end, at least in the first draft (I follow the no-deletion NaNoWriMo policy, as you can no doubt tell). I don’t have a problem, either, with killing people off, and neither does, apparently, Ellie here. πŸ˜› My friend is a huge fan of “The Walking Dead,” and half the time it’s “This person died, ohmygod,” and I kind of agree. πŸ˜› It makes me sad when books become predictable, not because of a character’s actions (I like it when you can predict a character: it shows they have a stable personality), but because of the author’s supposed “plot twists.” They really aren’t twists if you can predict what’s going to happen, lol. πŸ˜›

      Oh, that’s just a gorgeous quote! πŸ˜€ And it’s so true. Life goes on. Characters go on. Worlds go on. Right now in Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s children are facing the perils of peer pressure and the difficulties of Potions and enjoying Christmas and shivering in the cold, huddling around a jam jar like Harry, Ron, and Hermione once did. And it’s so true. But sometimes, for the readers, I guess we FEEL like it ends; the journey ends for us, sort of. Now we just have to guess and predict. There is no definite continuation for us.

      That’s also kind of why I like sad stories: I haven’t been able to pin it down, but you just did. Your reflections and analysis never cease to amaze me πŸ˜€

  4. So much respect for your character for listening to her voice and choosing what she thought the story needed. There IS a lot of demand in the book industry for happily-ever-after’s, or at least happily-ever-after-for-now’s, and it’s awesome that you acknowledged this pressure. Stephen King always says, “Kill your darlings,” and pretty much George R.R. Martin says the same (or I’m sure he would agree xD).

    On a side note, I would totally read this story so I hope ELLIE gets a HEA, but that’s up to you as the storyteller (: I love the description in this passage.

    • Thanks πŸ™‚ I’m proud of Ellie, too. πŸ˜€ I always feel pressured to give my characters HEA’s, even if I don’t really want to. I think that’s what Stephen King’s most famous for saying, actually πŸ˜› And yes, Martin, I think, would definitely agree πŸ˜€

      Oh, huh… This just sort of happened as I was writing my post on my problem with pressure/choices in writing, and I kind of liked the idea so I kept it. I guess I really didn’t think of Ellie having her own story, but now that you mention it, the idea is growing on me. It just sort of kind of unfolded in front of me, so maybe that’s a sign? I would hope for Ellie’s own HEA, too. From what she has narrated through my head, she seems very sweet and sincere. πŸ™‚

  5. I find that happily ever after endings sometimes make a great story turn into a bad one. I mean, how many novels have you read where the protagonist is close to death and it seems as if continuing on is impossible, but then they magically come back to life because who kills their main character? (Excluding Harry Potter, of course, his death and resurrection actually made sense in context). I’ve read a total of two books where the main character dies in the end (both for a noble cause) and, while it’s somewhat shocking to readers, it’s sometimes the best road to take. Glad you’re making good choices when you get to those forks in the road – I know I haven’t always done so. Good luck with your further choice-making! πŸ™‚

    • Yes, I agree. I’m definitely not one for giving characters happy endings just because. Sad endings can be more deeply moving and powerful. But at the same time, I think sad endings have to be done “right” (think Allegiant vs. TFiOS). I think that having the character die has to feel justified, and has to have pomp and circumstance. It has to be melodramatic and important, because the MC means so much more to everyone else than any other character does (in most cases).

      Well, magically coming back to life made sense in Harry Potter because they were MAGICAL πŸ˜› (Lol, no, not really, just trying out another bad pun.) Rowling actually wanted to kill off quite a few of the characters (including some of the main ones) but couldn’t bring herself to do it. πŸ™‚

      I’ve made quite a few bad choices in the past–in my most recent novel, I kind of wimped out in the end, because I couldn’t bring myself to do some stuff, and ultimately have to rewrite it for that purpose.

      Good luck on your choices as well! πŸ˜€

  6. Writing choices are always so hard. Luckily, unlike life choices, there’s always a reset (i.e. revision) button. πŸ™‚ And kudos to you for getting into writing so early! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished the resources for teen writers were available when I was younger . . .

    • Yep! Although the revision button is, quite frankly, quite annoying to use πŸ˜› Thanks πŸ˜€ I’ve been writing since I was quite young, but only just recently started blogging (about a year or so ago). There’s certainly many wonderful resources available to teen writers these days–and that I’m very thankful for! πŸ˜€

  7. I know the Outline Rope can’t always save you, but I do wish I had brought one along on my current trip. Instead of traversing through a Writing Forest, I’m groping my way through a very dark cave.

    • Oh, well πŸ˜› I went through the Cave my first time around with a novel, and it went okay. I mean, there was barely any plot, but it was fun to write. I mean, the plot twists were completely unprecedented! πŸ˜€

      Have fun with your project! Those Cave projects can be nasty work, but they’re good entertainment πŸ™‚

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