Writing is messy work

I’m trying something different. This week I started drafting a new novel. Using pen and paper (reminder: buy a box of #2 pencils). This comes close to literalizing my blog title, “The Pencil Driven Life.”

As an aside, I’m really not postured to start a new novel. I’m still editing my current work in progress, The Boaz Stranger. Over time, I’ve learned it’s better to complete an active project before attacking another. This is just the way I roll. There are many great writers who work on multiple projects at a time (not literally!). Two other things that make my pen and paper adventure so radical are my months-long craft study and near-full commitment to becoming a plotter. Instead, I had a vague idea about a guy seeking revenge and started pantsing. Come to think of it, I’ve pantsed every book I’ve written so far. Oh well.

Creating your drafts with pen (or pencil) and paper is not required. Since I started writing in 2015, I’ve always used a computer and the best software I’ve found, Scrivener. Now, after four days (I missed yesterday) I’m doubtful I’ll continue my different approach. But, that doesn’t mean it was fruitless.

Here are some things I learned. To start with, obviously, you can be anywhere and naked of all electronic devices and still write. Of course you need a pen or pencil and some paper; a pocket-sized notepad will do (as will a lump of charcoal and a tree limb stripped of its bark, but I digress into speculation). Secondly, there is real freedom by disconnecting from technology. I felt a needed distance between the creative side of my brain and that old demon who’s always saying shit like, “is that the best word here?” or “that is so lame and you’ve got it out of order. Move it before ‘Jack rolled down the hill.'”

It was refreshing to strike words and phrases. It was more refreshing drawing arrows, from here to there, and jotting down ideas in the margins–all things that’s more difficult with technology. And here’s another treat, a big one: I didn’t feel the need to be grammatically correct. Incomplete sentences were good enough to capture the jist of my thoughts.

However, one thing I didn’t like about my pen and paper adventure–transcribing my scribblings to Scrivener. There are three primary reasons. The quality of my penmanship made some words unclear. It seemed like I was wasting time by plowing similar ground twice. And, when I finished the task I felt like a slob. My usual writing method is to work slow and methodical, editing as I go (which always gives me a feeling of accomplishment). This merging of both sides of my brain is both good and bad, probably mostly bad but again, it’s the way I roll. So far.

Any way you look at it, writing is a messy business. No doubt I’m a slow learner but there’s one thing I’m chewing on as I conduct this little lookback. It’s okay to start anywhere. It’s okay to create rough drafts. Those so rough they will likely take many rewrites to start making sense, even more before the words start to flow into an enjoyable and intriguing story. Someone said (sorry, I don’t want to look it up), “writing is rewriting.” I’m saying that too. But, you have to start.

Which brings me to the real point I want to make. You are kidding yourself about the wonderfulness and greatness of your life if you are not writing. And reading. I know that’s bold and maybe not fully true for you or anyone else. But, it’s true for me and I should know given the tons of things I’ve tried over my sixty-six plus years.

Proof (kinda): even though my hand-written draft doesn’t yet include this thought, it’s in my head. What is it? James Aldridge (my protagonist) is going to connect with Micaden Tanner, my protagonist in my second novel. Sorry, you’ll have to read The Boaz Scorekeeper to learn about and understand one of my favorite characters. Btw, this book is free if you subscribe to my readers group.

Sign up for my Myths, Mysteries & Murders readers’ group for news, special offers, and to receive a FREE digital copy of The Boaz Scorekeeper: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/i9qbcspivt.

Here’s some of this week’s scribbling, and transcribing:

The Resolution

Finally, we are at the end of our series where I’ve attempted to provide a thumbnail description of each component of the Three-Act Structure. Let’s look at the Resolution, where everything is finally resolved in one or a handful of scenes.

Technically, our story ended with the climax, where the good guy gets the bad guy (or the opposite if that’s the way your story goes). However, this isn’t satisfying to most readers.

Why? They are like you and me. After we’ve spent ten or more hours with an enjoyable character, we don’t want to walk away cold turkey. That’s too psychologically shocking. It’s akin to losing a good friend to a deadly accident. At a minimum, we want a glimpse of what the future holds for this wonderfully interesting character.

This puts him in a similar mental location as your good friend from college who returned to Italy after graduation and joined his family’s wine-making business. You know life goes on for him in a quasi-certain manner, and that you will probably never see him again. But that’s okay. You have wonderful memories of your college days together.

There’s another important aspect to the Resolution. Readers want to recognize and contemplate how the hero changed over the life of your story. Say, at the beginning, he is strikingly judgmental, even bigoted. He often made fun of people of color, gays, trans, you get it. Then, something happened (might be a series of ‘somethings’) over the story that changed his mind. He recognized why he held his former beliefs and how damaging they were, not only to those who heard his remarks, but to his own well-being. By the Resolution, the hero could be a primary leader supporting a Black Lives Matter protest. Readers register this positive change arc and believe, at least subliminally, they themselves can change for the better even if they are not judgmental or bigoted.

The scene or scenes that comprise the Resolution are usually short, but that depends on the number of loose ends that need to be tied off. Most writers say shorter is better—I obviously didn’t think so in The Boaz Seeker. Let me admit, it wound up being way too long but, to my elementary mind, needed.

Speaking of The Boaz Seeker. SPOILER ALERT. Several months transpire between the Climax and the Resolution. This timeframe correlates with the remaining months of Cullie’s pregnancy. The Resolution begins with an acknowledgment that her and Josh are married and little Katherine Aella Miller entered the world just a few weeks earlier. Everything seems great, despite an overhanging sadness left by Kate’s (Cullie’s mom) death.

Cullie and Josh are flying to St. Lucia in the Caribbean for a long-delayed honeymoon, and to celebrate their recent high school graduation. During the long flight from Birmingham, Cullie has plenty of time to think (while Josh reads Nick Saban’s book). She relays the resolution to several issues that haven’t been tied off.

Finally, the plane lands and the couple arrives at their private romantic villa on St. Lucia’s northwestern shore. Again, all bodes well for the young couple: two weeks in this gorgeous hideaway, and, at the end of summer, on to the University of Alabama where Josh plans to walk on as a prospective quarterback and Cullie puts her educational plans on hold to care for baby Katherine (nickname Kas).

After an enjoyable romp in the villa’s waterbed, the couple sets out to the beach for a long swim in the ocean. Cullie answers a phone call from sister Alysa, fearing something might be wrong with Kas.

Thankfully, Kas is healthy and happy. Unfortunately, there is some troubling news. Alysa relays a discovery that could alter Cullie and Josh’s plans. Forever. A body has been discovered that could connect to actions our couple engaged in to help Kate avoid prison.

In tragedy, it’s hard to find a good resolution; it’s not black and white: it’s a big fog of gray.

Paul Dano

Of course, you’ll have to read The Boaz Seeker for the full picture. My point here is that not all stories end with, “and they lived happily ever after.” This isn’t the Resolution’s aim (although it can be). What’s necessary is that our readers ‘walk away’ knowing that our hero’s life goes on long after the book has ended.

This brings up the final characteristic of a good Resolution. Sorry, I’ve indirectly already said this. It’s the tone we want our readers to take away from our story. Happy? Sad? Bittersweet? We as authors decide, but it needs to fit. As you now know, The Boaz Seeker leaves readers bittersweet, but with a twist.

Cullie is bitter over what happened to her mom (again, read the book to properly grasp), but the young mother is happy to have Josh (he was the envy of every girl in high school!) as her husband, and darling Kas as her daughter. Yet Alysa’s news is foreboding.

The story ends with Cullie happy but anxious of what might lie ahead, remembering especially what happened with her mom.

In sum, we want our readers to ‘walk away’ satisfied with their investment of time and money in our story.

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Sanity Snippet #6

The protagonist of our story must be someone our readers cheer on and support. One way novel writers can accomplish this is by giving the hero a worthy goal.

Creating authentic story stakes is an additional requirement if we want to create fans. Please note that I didn’t say story stakes was an alternative way. No, the hero’s goal and the story’s stakes are two sides of the same coin.

So, what are story stakes? They are the undesirable results (bad things) that result from our hero failing to accomplish his goal. Without a doubt, to create a great novel (or even a mediocre one), the hero’s goal must be entwined with the story’s stakes.

SPOILER ALERT: In my own novel, The Boaz Seeker, eleventh-grader Cullie Sims’ goal (initially) is to help Andrea, her classmate and friend, discover who killed Skylar Simmons, a rising ninth-grader who Andrea had befriended. However, Cullie’s goal becomes personal when she learns her mother was involved in the disappearance and death of Patrick Wilkins, the local high school’s assistant principal. The reason? Katie, Cullie’s mother, did so to avenge the brutal rape of her co-teacher and best friend Cindy Barker.

In a broad sense, Cullie’s two goals seem disjointed. If Cullie (and Andrea) fail to discover who killed Skylar, then her killer will go free (note: the local criminal justice system is disinterested or is looking in the wrong place). As to Cullie’s more personal goal, if she doesn’t protect her mother, she likely will spend the rest of her life in prison. In fact, the two goals are intertwined. I’ll leave it at that and let you read my novel to discover what’s at stake (regarding both Skylar and Katie) if Cullie fails.

Exercise: think about your story, your protagonist, and his external goal. What’s at stakes if he fails? Pencil a few snippets or a page or two.

If you want to dig deeper, read “The Secret to Crafting High Stakes,” by the talented C.S. Lakin.

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The Climax

Today, I’ll continue outlining and describing the three act story structure. Next up is the climax.

Naturally, this takes place in Act III, towards the very end. It’s what our entire story has been leading to. This culmination should be both predictable and surprising. That’s a mouthful.

All good stories use foreshadowing: dropping morsels along the way that provide clues of what could be coming. But, the great novels throw in a twist at the end.

Although it’s surprising, it’s anything but impossible. In fact, it fits hand in glove. The stories that stay with us the longest are those that make us think about the ending. We prompt ourselves to mentally review the entire novel, searching for those telltale signs that we recall now but thought fairly innocuous earlier as we were reading. The climax with a twist leaves readers asking, “why didn’t I see that coming?”

The climax is where the story’s tension reaches its peak, the main conflict is resolved, and the protagonist finally accomplishes his goal. Or, doesn’t. It’s the final battle between our hero and his chief antagonist. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a fistfight or a shootout. It could be a contest, whether a chess match, a football game, or a race to become the first private citizen in space. It could be the inmate escaping prison. Recall, not all antagonists are human. The criminal justice system could be one man’s antagonist, although it seems even here, there are one or more people who personify the system.

It’s not error to consider the entire third act as the climax. Throughout, the action is rising, our protagonist is battling the forces against him reaching his goal, some are mere skirmishes. But, eventually, there must be that final red-hot scene were the war is either won or lost.

One thing we need to cover before ending. Many literary professionals believe the best novels have a protagonist who has both an external and an internal goal. Externally, he may be toiling to win a NASCAR championship or become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Internally, his goal could be to win the heart of Maggie May, or learn to forgive himself for not doing more to save the life of his childhood friend fifty years ago.

In these two-goal stories, it’s standard that the protagonist experiences some type of revelation either before, during, or after the climax. This triggers something in our hero that causes him to take some other action which might be a quiet (or loud) declaration that he forgives himself. It could be a walk across the street for our hero to ask Maggie May if she likes horses or would like to go for coffee.

The climax is the place where the opposing forces in your story finally clash. This is true whether those opposing forces are two armies or two values inside a character’s soul.

Nancy Kress

Novels are wonderful things. They don’t have to be complicated but they do need to stir our emotions.

Hopefully, next week we’ll look at the resolution, the final component of the three act story structure.

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Why You Should Be Writing

I need to take a break from my three-act story structure series for at least a week. Why? To persuade you to start writing.

There are many good reasons, but the one I want to focus on today is that writing will improve your thinking.

Three quotes from legendary writers:

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Flannery O’Connor

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”
Fran Lebowitz

To me, it’s clear from these quotes that mere thoughts are lacking; they are insufficient for critical thinking. They are unpredictable, disjointed, and often incomprehensible, and frequently false. It’s like having thirty food items in your shopping cart at Walmart and concluding all point to one and only one recipe, or that the order you pulled each item off the shelf is mandating you shouldn’t get the Covid vaccine. Huh?

Imperfect as my examples are, surely writing and ordering one’s thoughts on paper is better than spouting broad generalizations (AKA, meaningless statements), or gross untruths.

If you’re unconvinced writing will improve your thinking, take a few moments, even a few days, to listen to what those around you are saying. Start with those physically in your presence, say those around the water-cooler or conference table at work. Then, consider those you’re listening to on the radio, the TV, or via a podcast. Finally, consider the statements you hear while watching (and listening to) videos, whether YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

Of course, you also need to contemplate written statements. It doesn’t take long to find a Boob. Again, look at Facebook or Twitter.

Once you’ve conducted this experiment, I assume you will agree there is much need for improved thinking. You are interested in the truth, aren’t you?

If you are, then ask yourself: “why do you want me to write fiction, more particularly, a novel?” Good question. Not to be rhetorical, but one answer is to help you improve your thinking and view of the world. Just because you make up your entire story doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s true in the world you create. Rabbit trail: conduct a little research on the correlation between empathy and reading fiction. Start with the following introductory quotes.

Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

Ann Patchett

You should never read just for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of “literature”? That means fiction, too, stupid.

John Waters

Let’s dig a little deeper. I’d say without words/language we cannot learn anything. Of course, there are those who would disagree, saying that revelation is a way of knowing. Even if it is (which I do not believe) words are not absent.

A religious person might say, “I know God answered my prayer. See, here’s my car key I lost.” Ask yourself, were words used in the prayer? Probably? Even if not, was God’s response not in words? Let’s say He responded with a simple impression, a subliminal message of sorts, “they are in the kitchen garbage can.” Regardless, the person (the one praying) ‘understood’ where to look, and it wasn’t at the bottom of the swimming pool. Sorry, I digressed. For arguments sake, let’s agree, words are important.

Obviously, they are important to the writer. Let’s say that in the not-so-distant past you made the following spur of the moment verbal statement: “I’d kill that son-of-a-bitch if I could get away with it.” The three friends who heard you laughed, and either ordered another drink or engaged in conversation over which college the up-and-coming football star Arch Manning will choose.

However, later that night, as you were driving home, that spur of the moment declaration reappeared in your thoughts. Unlike what your three friends concluded, you were telling the truth. “If I could get away with it, I’d kill that son-of-a-bitch.”

But why? Most likely, that guy wronged you, or you have concluded that he did. His action might have been a perceived wrong, albeit slight in the grand scheme of things, but to you it was MAJOR. Further, the guy may not have a clue how you feel.

It’s revenge you’re after. And, you have the words and language to express it. You know what a wrong is (at least you have your definition in those scrambled thoughts in your head). You know what revenge is. Finally, you know what you mean by “get away with it.” As to the later, you likely mean, “not getting arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison.”

Before you shop at Walmart for a pistol, a tarp, fifty feet of rope, and a pick and shovel, why not start writing? Even better, why not start writing a novel about James Anderson (a made-up name) who’s itching to kill Paul Daniel (a made-up name). It seems Paul dishonored James’ sister back in high school half a century ago. James has hated him ever since. Plus, a few weeks ago local citizens elected Paul to the City’s zoning board, which is critical to James’ financial success.

You get the idea. Before you do something risky (murder the guy who spawned the fictional James Anderson), why not explore it in a safer environment? Why not follow a world-famous writer’s personal admonition: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Joan Didion.

It could be you learn something, something that changes your mind. You might learn, because the fictional James learned, there’s more to “getting away with it” than staying off the police’s radar. Think about it. You murder someone. Do you think you will ever be free, mentally free, from the haunting? When you wake each morning, won’t you ask yourself, “will today be the day, they (the police) discover the evidence and clues I left behind?” Surely you believe you will make a few mistakes while you plan or execute your crime.

Back to your novel. Don’t forget that as writers it’s nearly impossible to exclude ourselves fully from our characters. Many experts say there is some part of an author in every character he creates. This could be unintentional, but it doesn’t have to be.

Of course, you don’t have to write an entire novel to learn something or improve your thinking. Here’s another experiment. Start keeping a journal. At the end of each day, recall and record a few of the statements you made during your waking hours. Choose one and analyze it in writing. Maybe you conclude your statement was true but you want to explore your reasoning. What makes that statement true? “Sue is as bad as Carl.” True? Here’s another example (I’m not saying it’s true!): “the Covid vaccine is just another way for the government to control the people.”

The goal is to start writing. If you do, at a minimum, you might discover what you are thinking. In the process, you might also learn that your thinking is flawed. And that’s always good to know.

In conclusion, and at the risk of diluting my main subject (actually, it doesn’t) I recommend you read the following article, “The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction: 9 Ways it Make Us Happier and More Creative.” You can find it here:


In sum, this article argues that your life will improve if you become an active fiction reader. One thing the article doesn’t address is the importance of reading for a writer. The infamous Stephen King said it best, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Think about it. Every fiction book you’ve read or will ever read has an author. And that guy or gal had a day they wrote for the first time. You depend on others for everything you read (other than your own writing!). Why not become the one who gives someone else the benefit of your creativity, the stories only you can write?

I promise you one thing, if you will start reading and writing fiction, your life will improve. Here’s two ways: you will hone your critical thinking skills, and you will become more empathetic.

Not only does reading and writing fiction benefit you, it benefits the world.

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Sanity Snippet #5

You now have a picture of your protagonist. You’ve given him a SMART goal. Now, it’s time to think about your chief antagonist. What is an antagonist? It’s the person who is against your protagonist achieving his goal. He is your story’s primary source of conflict. Often, it’s a good-guy vs. bad-guy story.

However, there can be a group of antagonists. Think of it as a football game. The antagonist/defense is doing all it can to keep the offense from scoring. This is obviously not a perfect analogy. Yes, there are eleven characters on defense against the offense but marvellous stories don’t have that many protagonists.

In the first paragraph, I provided a simple and true definition of what an antagonist is. He is a person. These novels are my favorite. The antagonist is a person, a real, living-breathing human being. But, there is much more to consider.

Generally , there are four types of antagonists: villains, quasi good-guys, nature, and the protagonist himself.

Villains are the true bad-guys. They are evil and will do anything to stop the protagonist from achieving his goal. There are many types of villains, which I’ll ignore for now. You’ve probably heard of the following villains: Hannibal Lecter; Norman Bates; Darth Vader; and The Wicked Witch of the West.

Quasi good-guys can be antagonists. They aren’t evil in and of themselves. Often, they simply have goals that conflict with that of the protagonist. Think of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He and Elizabeth Bennet are in constant disagreement.

A force such as nature can be an antagonist. Here’s two stories where the sea is the antagonist: The Old Man and the Sea (by Ernest Hemingway), and Robinson Crusoe (by Daniel Defoe). Here’s other stories with nature as the antagonist: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau; Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer.

Some of the most meaningful stories are those where the antagonist is the protagonist himself. The story’s conflict comes from within. The source could be any number of things such as a past mistake, a fear, a weakness, an obsession, an addiction, or a needed, but absent, skill. Any one of these things can prevent a protagonist from reaching his goal.

Absent from my list is the story without an official antagonist. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is an example. However, this doesn’t mean there is no conflict. There are always obstacles standing in the way of a protagonist reaching his goal. If not, there’s no story. Who wants to read about Ted who decides he wants to climb Mt. Everest and, after a quick cup of coffee, finds himself standing on the world’s tallest mountain?

Start thinking about your story’s antagonist. Put words to paper. A ten or fifteen minute free-writing session can get your juices flowing. Ask yourself some questions: what is my protagonist’s story goal? Who/what is most likely to get in his way of achieving this goal? Why?

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The Third Plot Point

This structural event comes at the end of Act II. During the first seventy-five percent of our story, nothing is as bad for our protagonist. The third plot point is also known as the ‘all is lost’ moment, or the ‘black moment,’ to name two. The title/label I like best is H.R. D’Costa’s, ‘the trough of hell.’

Before looking at this final plot point, let’s step back and review. Recall that Act II comprises half of our novel. During the first half, what I refer to as Act IIA, our protagonist is reacting to what happened at the end of Act I (the first plot point). The midpoint changes everything by its new reveal and shifts our hero into action mode. Throughout Act IIB, he is aggressively pursuing his story goal and continues to battle the antagonist and/or the antagonist’s helpers. Our guy has had some success with the greatest one coming a few pages before he encounters ‘the trough of hell.’ After this event (series of events) is over, our protagonist is barely alive, assuming we have done our job. We have to make it the worst ordeal of his life. Why is that? To set-up our hero’s ascent to the climax in Act III.

In her excellent craft book, Story Structure for the Win, D’Costa argues the ‘trough of hell’ includes three key characteristics: pain, emotion, and paradox. Let’s look at each of these.


D’Costa quotes Kurt Vonnegut to describe our task as authors: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

D’Costa provides an excellent example where the heroine is hit with a multitude of “awful things.” In Bridesmaids, “[a] t the end of Act Two, Annie:
is demoted from her position as Lillian’s maid of honor,
wrecks her blossoming romance with Officer Rhodes,
gets fired from her job at the jewelry store,
is ousted from her apartment by her two comically creepy roommates, [and]
completely ruins her friendship with Lillian.”
Would you agree, Annie has had a bad day?

Now, let’s look at D’Costa’s example where the hero is hit with ONE ‘awful thing [].” At the end of Act II in Speed, “Jack Traven experiences… [t]he death of [his] best friend and police partner, Harry….” Again, enough pain to knock Jack’s feet out from under him.


The ‘trough of hell’ must trigger an emotional reaction in our audience. But, it’s not just any emotional reaction; it’s one that perpetuates the audience’s love and support for our hero. Their desire for him to succeed is heightened.
It’s important to choose the right type of tragedy, one that connects to our protagonist. Before looking at an example, it’s important to note that the events that comprise the ‘trough of hell’ can include bad things happening to others, not just our hero.

Look at D’Costa’s example taken from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009). “Toward the end of the second act, Watson is seriously injured in a factory explosion. Obviously, he’s in a great deal of pain. But Watson’s suffering doesn’t automatically produce a moment of emotional resonance for audiences. This event has resonance specifically because the film took the time to show how meaningful Watson’s friendship is to Holmes.” In sum, our audience has to care deeply about the well-being of our hero.


Let’s start with the definition. Paradox is “a statement that contradicts itself.” Here’s the example given by Dictionary: “’I always lie’ is a paradox because if it is true it must be false.”

Looking at the ‘trough of hell’ convinces us that our hero is in BAD shape. We are convinced he is the furthest he could be from reaching his story goal. But, D’Costa contends this is merely a paradox: “[i] t just looks like he is.” What’s just happened “is exactly what your protagonist needs to push past his demons; give up his crutches; [or] overcome his innate resistance to change.” Why? “… [because now] he’s desperate enough to take the path of most resistance—and confront the very thing he’s been trying to avoid….”

Authentically, fiction mirrors life. Each of us starts off in our ordinary world. I hope that you, like me, grew up in a loving home with two parents who sacrificed that I might have a better life.

At age eighteen or so things change radically. High school is over and it’s time for college, trade school, or maybe the military. Whatever it is, we leave our ordinary world and embark on a lifelong journey of pursuing a goal (might be a series of goals). One thing is for certain, the new world is radically different from the ordinary world.

For many, this next quarter of life (twenty or twenty-five years?) is a reactionary phase. We’re reacting to what happened when we left home. It’s a reaction to the college degree we earned. For example, it’s years of working as an accountant.

Then comes our story’s (our life’s) midpoint. This is our life’s second plot point. For me, it was a return to law school. For you, it might an early retirement and opening your own shop. It could be anything that sends you off in a new direction. The dominoes of your life turn hard right (or left).
We’re now in Act IIB of our lives. The midpoint change, whether self-created or outside imposed, triggers our own need to be proactive. It’s time to investigate, plot, plan, a time to focus on giving your life meaning.

At the end of Act IIB (let’s say, around age 65 or 70) no matter who we are or what we’ve accomplished, our ‘trough of hell’ arrives. One word is all it takes to sum up this life event: BAD. It might be a bitter divorce, the terminal illness of a spouse or other loved-one. It could be a criminal indictment. It could be an investment loss (a BIG one).

But, there is hope. You and I will survive our individual troughs of hell. How do I know this? Because you are the hero/protagonist of your own life, and we haven’t gotten to the Climax. That’s the time you have to worry about, because, unlike fiction, you already know how your story ends.

I don’t say this to cause you sadness or depression. It’s a fact of life, we are all going to die. Here’s what a famous astronomer wrote, “[o]ur planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

Although I said the Climax of each of our lives is fixed and worrisome, this doesn’t mean we have nothing to live for. The world is full of beauty, wonder, and joy. And, it is meaningful, if we make it that way.

It is up to each of us to make our own meaning. It isn’t something given by some supernatural being. Yes, of course, you can believe differently, but for me, I’m interested in the truth. And, so far, there isn’t sufficient credible evidence that there is some being holding us in the palms of his hand. Rather, everything points to Sagan’s conclusion: “… there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us….”

But, in the meantime, you and I, as living human beings, and writers, have antagonists to defeat, so let’s get to it. We are in Act III you know.

A writer’s job is to tell the truth.

Andy Rooney
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