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. 😀