Joining Jen at Conversion Diary for another round of 7 Quick Takes. (Isn’t she the lucky one?)
I may have used up all my creative juices coming up with my post title.
But I’m sure it’s got you thinking! What is a Mystical Oink? The oink that accompanies the indulgence of a oohy, gooey Big Mac? The existential experience that one gets reading the Dollar Menu? The universal longing, the groaning of creation, over the fact that the McDonald’s menu does not include one, single, little pork product (other than bacon)? The teenage nostalgia that floods my soul at hearing, for the first time in years, “I ooooonly wanna be with yooo-ooo-ooouuuuuuuu” —
Shall we pull a theologian and exegete this title?
I think we should. So let’s start with oink:
This coming Sunday is Ben’s third birthday (my, how time flies). A few months ago I signed Ben up for the Kids’ Club at Barnes and Noble, and for his birthday they emailed a coupon for Ben to receive a free birthday cookie or cupcake from the B&N Cafe. So we went. And… as living proof that their marketing ploy does, in fact, work, I decided to look for Ben’s birthday present while we there.
After devouring his Cheesecake Factory cupcake, Ben led the way to the kids section to play with their Thomas train track display while I took a look around for books. I picked up a few (two of which Ben creased and ripped, thereby invoking the ‘you break it, you bought it’ rule), and then pulled him away from “THOMAS!” so that I could look at gifts for my niece and nephew.
And that’s when we saw him. The pig puppet.
It was love. Love at first oink.
I’ve never seen the kid latch on to a toy like this. Here, a few days later, he’s hardly let it out of his sight:
Sometimes I hit the jackpot. The pig, he’s a jackpot.
Happy birthday, kiddo.
Next up on the exegetical docket: mystical. In several parts. Part One:
Huge, HUGE milestone on the novel today.
Did you see that? I CROSSED THE HALFWAY POINT ON THIS DRAFT.
But that’s not the truly exciting part. Not at all.
You see, writing 40,000+ words is the easy part. But progressing forward through the story – moving from beginning to middle to end? That’s hard. Very hard.
Yesterday, mired in a fit of Resistance and definitely avoiding my day’s writing, I decided to move every document I’ve written on this bleepity-bleep novel over the past two years into my manuscript folder in Scrivener, and then compile it into a single Word document. I opened the Word document, and….
Pretty impressive, right?
Not on your life!
All this, but… I had yet to reach the midpoint of the story. EVER. Chapter Ones? I have them in abundance. (I think they were fruitful and multiplied when I wasn’t looking, the little rascals.) Notes? Yes. Outlines? Yes. Winding, long-winded retellings of back story minutia? Yes. Random ‘scenes’ of witty banter? God help me, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
A story that had moved past Act One? No.
No… until today, that is!
Today’s goal was to hit 40K and the midpoint. Considering yesterday’s (and the day before, and the day before that’s…) near-despair over whether or not I’d get back on the rails and steer this story to its Point Of No Return, reaching the midpoint is a miracle. And where there are miracles, there are Mystical Experiences.
Mystical, Part Two:
I brought my near-despair to prayer this morning, and, somewhere toward the end of prayer, I had that so-rare-but-boy-I-wish-God-gave-these-to-me-more-often premonition that everything was going to work out today. I was 2,500 words behind 40K and my midpoint scenes blank pages, but, hey, everything was under control.
My husband promised to pray for me, and Colleen emailed me this morning with this heck-of-a-spiritual-boost: “Praying for you today in a special way…I’m going to the store with all the kids so I’ll definitely have a few things to offer up.”
Rock on, Communion of Saints. All I can say is that the Duggan kids must have been particularly rotten for their mom at the grocery store or something, because nearly 3,000 words flowed freely from my fingers today, PLUS…
Mystical, Part Three:
…my protagonist did the most unexpected thing.
First, she confessed a BIG SECRET. A big secret I didn’t even know she had!!!!!!!!!!
Second, as she confessed her BIG SECRET, she had her conversion.
I was typing so fast, it just happened. I don’t even know how to explain this except to say that I had no idea this is how this would happen. But there it was, on the screen, I reread what I had just written, and – of all things – I realized I had been crying. CRYING!
I have plot outlines galore. I’ve developed these characters in depth for months and months. I know how this story ends.
But I had no idea this would be the way we crossed the midpoint of the story, that this confession and conversion would be the means of transforming my character from a responder to a warrior (cf. Larry Brooks).
Mystical, Part Four:
(Are you weirded out yet? Yes, these things happen to me. Even I think it’s bizarre.)
That my agnostic, lapsed-Catholic (and delightfully charming) character was ripe for a conversion, I suspected. But I couldn’t force it on her. NO WAY. I hate it when religious writers plaster a conversion on the surface of their characters like Kiss plasters on makeup. Even the Greats fail at this – Levin at the end of Anna Karenina, Ryder at the end of Brideshead Revisited (sorry, fellow Catholics, but I wasn’t totally convinced…), etc. Etc., etc. etc.
But my character, she went ahead and did it for me. So what do you know? It happened. It’s a mystery — as well it should be.
And I stand in awe of it.
On to the last part of our exegesis: McDonald’s.
All this happened at a tiny table loaded down with milk, apple slices, and decaf coffee, next to the kiddie jungle gym at the 8th Street McDonald’s here in Holland.
The Muse, she sings… wherever she can get a chance.
So, yes, I was crying at McDonald’s. And, yes…
…Hootie and the Blowfish were crooning their sweet song over the speakers.
And, finally, yes, I’m pretty sure the other fine folks at America’s Favorite Fast Food Chain think I’m a complete loon.
Moving from responder to warrior, Catholic-style: This deserves explanation.
Most stories fall into the classic three-act structure. We meet the characters in Act One and get caught up in their lives (through the hook and inciting incidents), until at the end of Act One, when the protagonist(s) of the story makes a BIG DECISION TO PURSUE A GOAL that determines, from there on out, the course of the story. Act Two is the back-and-forth, give-and-take of pursuing this goal, ending with a Black Moment, from which we’re not sure if the character will ever, ever recover. Act Three is the climax – the character finds the strength to meet the antagonist in a final, to-the-death battle and either ACHIEVES AND/OR LOSES THE GOAL.
In the middle of Act Two is the Midpoint. It’s sometimes called “The Point of No Return”, because something happens at the midpoint that makes the GOAL a life-or-death situation. High stakes. Now we’re really committed to its success.
The event at the midpoint gives the protagonist the weapon he or she needs to slay the dragon and achieve the goal. It’s a transformative event. Before the midpoint, our hero is floundering about a little bit, making tons of mistakes, one step forward, two steps back. But he gets what he needs at midpoint to rise up to his full potential and kick some a-double-s.
You’ll see this clearly in almost any Hollywood movie you watch.
Let’s take Star Wars as an example (with a hat tip to Vogler and pretty much everyone else). What happens smack-dab in the middle of the story? They invade the Death Star. What is it that they’re seeking? Princess Leia. Do we think Luke’s a terribly promising hero before we go knocking on Darth Vader’s home? Not on your life. Do we think Luke’s a promising hero after they’ve navigated the droids and saved the Princess (or get saved by her) and resurrected from the Pit of Death, a.k.a. the garbage compactor, and escaped with Leia and the information they need ? Sure. Now we think Luke’s got a fighting chance to achieve his goal of destroying the Death Star. Now they have the means to fight.
Integral to this is Obi-Wan’s death, but I won’t go into that.
Now, as to responder to warrior, Catholic-style: Before today, I thought my character would arrive at some sort of vague, hypothetical reconciliation with God – should it happen at all – at the end of the story. That’s how I had it plotted out in my head and in my notebook.
But now I see why the midpoint is the perfect place for my character’s conversion.
Her conversion has not changed her external goals. She might see them differently, but they’re still there. What has changed, however, is that now she has her weapon – her warrior’s sword, the thing that’s changing her from a reactor and a solutions-pusher into a health(ier) human being who can bring real solutions into her little world and achieve those goals.
Her warrior’s sword is God.
And for a Catholic, this makes perfect sense.
I’ll leave it there. Have a blessed weekend, everyone.
(p.s. I’m so not a Star Wars geek. Really. Any and all mystical experiences and uses of the Force in the writing of this novel is pure coincidence.)