Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Last week Bronte and I went to the porch for our power nap. I'd just settled on the daybed and covered with a chenille throw, when I noticed a bird flying overhead. Jerry had left the screen door ajar.
I tried everything to get the bird through the open door. With Bronte following me like we were playing a game, I chased the bird around the porch. I dodged chairs and the daybed. I flapped my arms. I clapped my hands. Nothing worked.
The attempts energized me and I no longer needed a nap. So I sat down to plot an alternate rescue scheme. Another bird was on the outside chirping away at her trapped companion. She seemed pretty worked up about it. I could just imagine what she was saying. "You have a terrible sense of direction. If you would have just asked me, I would have told you not to go that way." Eventually the outside bird and I both gave up.
That night I asked Jerry to help me, figuring that he could stand at one end of the porch and I could lead the bird to the door. But when we went out to check, it seemed the bird had found its way out. We left the door ajar, just in case.
The next day I discovered I was wrong. The bird flew overheard, back and forth, back and forth. I couldn't understand how, in two days, that bird didn't discover his way out. The answer was right in front of him.
Then I had another idea. I sprinkled some birdseed on top of a container and put it near the door. I went inside the house and back to work on my manuscript. When I checked the next day, the bird was gone. After two days of feeling trapped, the bird had finally made his escape.
I can relate to that bird. When I started my historical novel years ago, I quickly ran into a roadblock. The story begins in 1833 and I wanted the main character to go to the Nebraska Territory to live with his aunt and uncle in 1834. They were going to be farmers. Then I found out that the only white women in the Nebraska Territory in 1834 were missionaries. No, I thought, that would not work. This was not going to be a story with missionaries. This was going to be a story with farmers.
Oh, how I fretted. I tried to figure another place that my main character could go, but I needed it to be in the Nebraska Territory because the boy's father would be taking him to his brother and sister-in-law on the way to trapping out West.
For days, I brooded. I even questioned my decision to write the book. (I've done that several times since then, but those are other stories.)Finally one day, I decided to spend some time researching missionaries in the Nebraska Territory. I'll ponder it for a day, I thought. Before the day was up, I got caught up in the story of Moses and Eliza Merrill who ran an Otoe Mission near Bellevue, Nebraska. The story contained drama--problems with the men at the trading post, communication barriers with the Otoe, a small pox outbreak, and death.
Not long after reading about them, I visited schools in the Omaha area. I planned a side trip to Bellevue and found the only remaining proof of the mission--a lone standing chimney. The man at a little museum who gave me instructions on how to get there couldn't believe I was going to bother to find it. But after reading about the Merrills, I knew I must. Standing there, peering through the fence at the chimney, made it all seem clear. Why had I fought so hard not to include a mission in the story? Why was I so stubborn about those characters being farmers?
As writers we sometimes forget to explore the endless possibilities when we create our worlds. Sometimes we hit a barrier and if we're too tunnel-visioned we may lose the chance at adding another layer or plot point that enriches our story. That's what almost happened to me, until I finally explored another way and discovered the Merrills. Even though my story is not about them, their lives and work definitely inspired that section. I would have missed it all if I hadn't finally seen the open door.
Posted by Kimberly at 3:07 PM