Good Narrative Principles

How to Color Within the Lines


IMG_6513Roy did not take kindly to being ordered home. He was on a tear, a winning streak, he tried to explain to his parents, who, oddly enough, were home in the middle of the day. Camped out at the kitchen table, dwarfed by a mountain of notes and printed matter spilling onto the floor, his parents attacked each paper methodically, ripping and shredding, then mixing each bit into a large bag as if following an obscure recipe. Roy noticed that there was no PP&J on white toast waiting for him. No snacks of any kind. Instead, there was a crazed look in his Dad’s eyes, something he had never seen before.

His Mom’s instructions were clear — get moving. Still he stood transfixed. Again, his Mother coaxed him to action, yelling, this is time WE DO NOT HAVE!

The steady ripping of paper, the occasional passing of significant items from Mom to Dad or vice versa followed by a rueful laugh, baffled Roy. His legs twitched with energy as he plucked his first piece of paper and ripped it in half which, as it turns out, wasn’t enough. Four rips was minimum, eight was better. And don’t fold and rip, Mom cautioned.

An hour passed in this fashion. Roy knew better than to ask what prompted this crisis. His parents talked about McCarthy’s rise to power in hushed tones. An informer had just named his Uncle Charlie and Aunt Rose, who were not really family, but rather close friends. Roy interrupted the silence that was thick with worry and sang or hummed the songs that bounced around the radio forming the soundtrack of his young life. Mr. Sandman bring me a dream…Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen…Or I said shake, rattle and roll which had the added bonus of annoying his parents.

While he sang, Roy played out the following scenarios in his head: his teammates, annoyed that he didn’t show up for practice, kick off him off the team while Betty, his secret girlfriend, watches the moments tick by at the candy store and drafts her break up speech. The pressure of disappointing his teammates and losing the love of a hot girl he had fought so hard to win over, worked on Roy in rhythm with the sounds of ripping paper. The final straw was reheated chow mein his Mom served up for dinner. Convinced his life was falling apart, Roy told his parents that they had no right to drag him into their mess and stormed out.

Of course he came home hours later and slipped into bed without a word. But the lessons from that long day stuck with him and were codified into the tough calculus of self-preservation that he then drilled home with each of his kids.

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