There was the mystery of the man in the rocker. My mother often told the story of how, at the age of 14 (which would be in 1932) she was forbidden by her mother and father to go to a dance party. In the small town of Saline, Louisiana there just wasn’t a whole to do for entertainment and my mother really wanted to go to the “Jump Josey” party. So, after she was sent to her room, she slid out the window and ran across the yard in the dark toward the neighbor’s house.
She would talk about how much fun she had at the party and suddenly realizing how late it was. So, she ran back to her house. It was now close to midnight and the little hamlet of Saline was quite and dead as a door knob.
She eased up on the front porch with her shoes in her hand and into the house. As soon as she shut the front door behind her, she head someone rocking in the rocking chair. In the dim interior of the living room only lit by reflected moonlight, she saw someone sitting in the rocker. Her heart was beating and she was so afraid it was her mother and father. She quietly slipped by the chair but when she passed her parents’ bedrooms, they were both in the bed fast asleep. All of her sisters and her brother were in their beds. Then, who was in the rocker?
This was the great mystery. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat as my mother told this story. She told it over and over throughout my childhood. And, I jumped every time the big Reveal was, well, revealed. In fact, my mother and father were incredible story tellers. It seemed as if their entire lives were one unending story after another. I grew up believing in fairy tales and ghost stories and that good would always triumph over evil. I grew up believing that life, like stories, has a beginning, a middle, and an end and the best stories always have the strongest endings! I grew up believing that everything in life was a story; coherent; understandable; forward moving toward a satisfying end.
In our postmodern culture where relativism rules supreme, it is difficult to see where life in the 21st century matches the classic story. I guess that is why I absolutely LOVE anything written, directed, or produced by J. J. Abrams. Yes, I watched every episode of LOST with breathless anticipation. And, yes, I loved the finale. It fit. It was inevitable. It was a strong ending. I watched every episode of Alias. I went back and watched Mission Impossible III again and loved it. And, Fringe is one of my favorite shows right now. Just last week, I got hooked again by Alcatraz. And, as a life long Trekker, I was shocked and stunned by the brilliance of his reboot of Star Trek.
This past week I began the long process of re-editing my final version of my next book, “The 12th Demon”. Today’s post is about plot. My editor, Andy, had this to say about character development in light of the plot devices regarding one scene where Jonathan Steel has “lost” the teenager Josh again and is reeling with emotional conflict over this failure to keep his promise to Josh’s mother:
You’ve written a novel that centers around action, which is excellent. However here it would be good to dwell on Steel’s emotions. He’s just lost Josh. He would be feeling ashamed, angry, and even afraid. Help the readers connect with him on an emotional level by giving Steel a moment of vulnerability here. See this talk by JJ Abrams about the most important scene in Jaws (start at 10:00).
Here is the link to this most excellent discussion. Watch it over and over and bathe in the pure brilliance of the Mystery Box.
My mother gave me a “mystery box” each and every time she told me that story. It set the stage for my entire life. It has made me an investigator of all around me: people, places, things, situations, life in general. For in everyone of us, in every situation there is a mystery to be solved. And, it is in the journey to discovery that life finds its most satisfaction for me. In fact, the greatest discovery of my life was in finding a relationship with Jesus Christ. Opening that “mystery box” was the most profound experience of all.
Oh, yeah. The rocker.
My mother slowly crept back into the living room, still carrying her shoes. The rocker was still but as she got closer, it began to rock again and she could now hear a deep, throaty breathing from the person in the chair. Who was it? Had someone come into the house to rob them? She should have run back to her parents’ bedroom and cried for help, but if she did, she would be in big trouble over the dance. So, she drew nearer to the chair and asked, “Who’s there?” More deep breath and now, a thumping sound like a heart beating hard and slow. She reached out in the darkness and felt hard, scratchy whiskers and she screamed, throwing her shoes up in the air. The man in the chair bolted up and landed right on top of her as they toppled to the floor. The man’s face grew close to hers and he . . . licked her. He licked her? The lights came on as the family tumbled into the living room and there perched on top of my mother was the family hound. You can figure out the rest!