Make your characters want something right away, wrote Vonnegut, even if it’s only a glass of water.
And as soon as we pick my four-year-old up from pre-school and strap her into her car seat, she tells us that she wants some water.
But a narrative, at its most basic level, is driven by the relationship between what a character wants and the obstacles in their way, and it just so happens that my daughter’s water bottle is empty.
My daughters were supposed to be getting ready for bed when I walked into their room and found my four-year-old naked, kneeling on all fours with her butt in the air, her older sister slapping her bottom.
What are you doing? I asked.
Playin’ the drums, my older daughter said.
And though part of me was relieved to see my four-year-old finally using her butt for something other than a wind instrument, I immediately stopped the show and escorted her to the shower.
Last night, I was brushing my teeth when I noticed a pair of socks in the toilet.
Why are your socks in the toilet, I asked my four-year-old.
Mama told me to put them away in my drawer, she said.
So how did they end up in the toilet, I asked.
In the first creative writing class I ever took, we workshopped a peer’s story called, Tidal.
I wrote a long review of the piece describing its ebb and flow and how its two references to the sea served as a low-key motif for the stormy relationship between the two main characters.
It wasn’t until I referred to its title – Tidal – aloud in class that I caught onto the joke. I felt duped and thrilled at the same time.
I like to play with my poems the way I play with my daughters.
We invent elaborate games with ever-shifting rules. We treat familiar objects as if they were not familiar. When we wrestle, it almost looks like we’re dancing.
The problem, though, is that other poems – poems I’ve never even read before – love to run over and join in on the fun, start trying to grab my thumb or pull the glasses off my face and before I know it I’m surrounded by a pack of little rough drafts all wanting to play slappy-slappy.