Twelve days in the desert, and I did not know how much farther I had to go. My horses were dead, my waterskins were empty, and my legs shook with every step. The string of mountains I had been following were dwindling, but I found refuge from the sun’s gaze in a cluster of sand-worn boulders.
Before me, the land wavered in the heat. Not a soul in sight. No plants, nor birds. I would have killed for any sign of life. Even a snake would’ve been welcome. Instead, I got a dust devil.
Wind swept down from the mountains, tangling itself up in the heat, until the two were locked in a kind of combat, spinning and throwing each other around, picking up dust, until there was a tower of sand rolling and revolving across the empty dance floor of the desert. The dust devil crackled with energy, and electric tongues licked out from the gathering sand.
Wind tugged on the buttons of my shirt and pulled on my hair. If I wasn’t so exhausted, I would’ve stood up. I could hear the energy crackling, I could feel it in my skin as the dust devil whipped closer to my shelter.
A sound lifted the hairs on the back of my neck. The lightning laughed.
Inside of the dust devil, spinning like a leaf in a whirlpool, was a man, naked as the day, laughing from the bottom of his lungs. The crackling energy from the dust devil pressed against me, the wind flattened me against a rock, and I had to shield my eyes.
When I opened my eyes I saw the man, standing in front of me, hands on his hips, with a thin strip of hide covering his nethers. Barely covering. Thick cords of muscle bulged on his thighs, his calves, his arms. His skin was as grey as the mountains.
“Writer!” he shouted, even though he was standing over me, “You have summoned me!”
“You are given three wishes,” Every word from his lips seemed to echo over the land, and every pause was followed by a whipping of the wind, “I warn you, I do not play games.”
“Water. Please. And shade.”
“Then I think you should dig a hole, Writer. It looks like rain.”
He threw back his head, and laughed until the muscles on his stomach looked like they might burst. His laughter echoed up the mountains, and, almost as if in reply, there was a boom.
While we watched shadows gather in the mountains, he asked me what else I would wish for.
“Make it good. Make it something you have always wanted.”
I dug into my pack, pulled out a piece of jerky, and ripped it in half. I handed half to the naked man, trying not to stare at his musculature.
“If I ask you who you are, does that count as my last wish?”
He howled with laughter, as if he had never heard anything funnier than that question.
I took that as a yes. Sweat trickled down my face, and my boots were stifling, like ovens. But the air had changed, and a cool breeze swept down from the mountains. The clouds were pregnant with rain.
I licked my lips, “I am the Writer. But I have much to learn. My characters are strong, my ideas are unique, but my stories always seem to drag on. Teach me to make my writing more engaging.”
A noise like wind blowing through a valley whooshed out from his mouth. The laughter was gone, but something else danced behind his eyes.
“Please!” I fell to my knees, my hands in the sand. My tongue was heavy in the dryness of my mouth.
“What is the most exciting part of a story?”
“Is this a riddle? I’m not good at riddles.” Something wet fell on the back of my head.
“No!” He boomed, “It is obvious: the most exciting part of a story is structure.”
I did not think I had heard him right.
“Yes, Writer. Take heed of the storm. Watch as it washes over the desert, and I will explain it to you.”
Black clouds fell from the mountains until I was sitting in their shade. Next to me, the naked man stretched out his arms, as if he was welcoming a long-forsaken brother, beckoning the clouds to come closer. I thought I heard a tzt tzt sound coming from his skin, which seemed to grow blue in the stormy shadows.
“Writer, the storm is your story. The looming darkness drives the plot forward, it pushes your characters, because if they do not run, they will be caught in the storm.”
Something rumbled, and at first I thought the naked man was growling. The rumble grew louder until I could feel it in the rock I was leaning against. I sat up in time to see, through the rain, the flash.
“The lightning, Writer, are the moments of surprise in a story. They frighten you, they excite you, they turn the course of the storm one way, and then the other. They happen so quickly, you are never ready for them. But you know they are coming, because-”
And here he paused in his speech, as he waited for the tympanic roll of thunder.
“So,” I shouted over the pouring rain, “These turning points, these surprises, should they be as random as lightning?”
Crack. A bolt of light split the ground between my open legs.
“You think this is random?” the naked man raged.
Thunder boomed so loud I had to cover my ears.
“Writer, this is not play. This is art. You must craft these bolts of energy ahead of time, or you must be ready to channel them without hesitation!” In demonstration, blue streaks zig-zagged across his outstretched arm, and from the tip of his finger, a jet of white erupted.
“Every bolt is another unexpected person. Another unexpected event. Every bolt is the most interesting thing that could happen at that instant to keep your reader electrified.”
Sparks flew from the corners of his eyes and the ends of his smile and I was afraid that if he held in his laughter, he would explode.
“Tell, me, writer, what happens in the gaps between the thunder and the lightning?”
All of the hairs on my body were standing now, I could feel his energy flowing in my veins, “I don’t know. The rain?”
“Like the rain, your readers will not remember every word of your story. But they will remember the changes, the thunder and the lightning. You must make your strikes count!”
A bolt of lightning flashed between the naked man and I, blinding me. By the time my vision cleared, he was gone.
The storm thundered away, over the desert, but all I heard was laughter.
Thank you for reading! I hope you found something useful in this week’s post.
Lately, I’ve been watching television shows and marking down every time the plot took an unexpected turn. It’s pretty easy to see how other writers are setting up jokes, or raising tension for a dramatic downturn when you’re paying attention to structure.
If you try this yourself, you might be surprised how many turning points writers shove into their stories.
Writing Challenge: Throw some obstacles in your protagonist’s path. Unravel their plans, turn them around, try to fit in as many lightning bolts as you can. You won’t know what’s interesting until you’ve tried it.
Please, feel free to comment, like, and follow the blog. All feedback is welcome. Send me a link to your turning points!
Image courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Flickr