Sanity Snippet: Prodigious Peppers

As of October 24, 2021, Sanity Snippets are snapshots of my daily life, those things I’m doing—such as reading, writing, biking, photographing, and gardening—to maintain sanity while living in the most regressive state imaginable. Alabama.

Richard L. Fricks

Prodigious as in “causing amazement or wonder” as per the first Merriam-Webster definition.

I picked these jalapeño and bell peppers yesterday and am still in awe of the productivity given their mom’s slow start last May. It seems the tiny three plants I purchased at the local feed and seed store grew steadily for the first few weeks. However, the fruit producing stage took months. But, once it kicked in, we’ve twice and sometime thrice-weekly harvested the best peppers ever. Just last night, I sliced one jalapeno into a bowl of homemade vegetable soup. It really spiced things up. Wonderful.

Question. Are you anything like these peppers? I know I am. Often (maybe all the time), I’m a slow starter. Maybe because I’m cautious by nature. Or I could be downright scared. Of what? Of failing? Yes. More narrowly put, I fear not measuring up to others. They aren’t slow starters, are they? They don’t spend weeks and months reaching that ten-mile biking goal. They don’t take a year to complete a novel. No, as soon as they ‘set-out,’ they produce.

Oh, okay, let’s admit you and I aren’t the only ones who take a little time to produce. And that’s okay. In reality, our only competition is ourselves. We each determine our goals and develop our unique paths.

It’s that way in my writing. Most days I’ll do anything to get out of sitting down at my computer and putting words on the page. This morning, I even swept and mopped the floors (well, part of the floors). Now, that’s desperation.

Back to those amazing peppers. Look at the photo again. Now, look at my first five paragraphs. What do you see? Not so fast. I know the peppers are more beautiful. But, to me at least, I’ve just been productive. Yes, I’m a slow-starter, but I stand dead center of my productivity journey. I’m close to completing my eleventh novel since stepping onto this path in 2015, with the next one in the composting stage.

That doesn’t mean I’m ahead of you or that I’m anything special. We create our own meaning. We set out our own plan[t]s. We choose what’s most important.

If you want to grow some outstanding peppers, you can. If you want to write a sentence, a paragraph, a short-story, or a novel, you can. Nothing is easy. Everything takes time and focus. And a bushel of determination.

You are a prodigious pepper. Take your time. Be patient but consistent. Before long, fruits will emerge.

And when that happens, please don’t forget to celebrate with a bowl of homemade vegetable soup.

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Sanity Snippet: Bike videos #1 & #2

As of October 24, 2021, Sanity Snippets are snapshots of my daily life, those things I’m doing—such as reading, writing, biking, photographing, and gardening—to maintain sanity while living in the most regressive state imaginable. Alabama.

Richard L. Fricks
Chain problems.

I posted this because I couldn’t email this video to customer service, so I sent the rep the link and he viewed it that way. I’d purchased my bike at Walmart in August and it has performed admirably ever since. Until two days ago when the chain came off during a seven mile ride. I reinstalled the chain but to no available. While peddling, the rear wheel would not turn. It seems the rear seven-cog mechanism is swiveling on the axle, preventing the wheel from turning.

On the bright side, I was able to contact the customer service department from a phone number on the bike (and owner’s manual) and was quickly transferred to a helpful rep. The warranty repair process was activated by my detailed reply to the rep’s initial email.

My Genesis model V2100 bike.

The Boaz Stranger, Chapter 1

From my latest novel. Available by mid-November.

A dense fog suffocated the dawn. It seemed I could reach out and touch Rachel’s headstone, yet I was underneath the cemetery’s arched stone entrance two hundred yards away. A bird, a radio speaker, my mind, something from above, kept reminding me of my grandmother’s philosophical mantra. “Live and learn and die and forget it all.” I’m sure my dead wife had forgotten everything, but had she discovered forgiveness? Had she forgiven herself for long ago sins, and had she forgiven me for failing to protect her?

The fog lifted and I realized I was in that netherworld between dreaming and awakening, moving my lips but barely sounding the words. “Oh Rachel, why kill yourself over something that happened half-a-century ago?”

I rolled onto my right side and opened my eyes, semi-surprised. The digital clock on Leah’s nightstand reads 3:58 am. It’s early morning, Saturday, and it has happened again. For the eighth straight week.

Last night I had conducted an experiment. I abandoned mine and Rachel’s master bedroom and slept upstairs in our daughter’s room, thinking this would break the two-month established pattern. It had not. I had awoken at the four o’clock hour entangled in the same dream clawing my way to a peace and happiness I knew I’d never find.

Other than the editing of my thoughts and writings—natural for myself, Lee Harding, Yale Law School professor—my first thought every Saturday morning had been this question about my departed wife. It had been almost a year since I found her hanging from an overhead beam in the basement. Her successful suicide had followed her failed attempt via pain pills six months earlier. That was when she’d told me why she wanted to end her life.

I tossed the covers aside and sat along the edge of Leah’s bed. Rachel’s abortion at age 16 was a secret, at least to me. Somehow, I had chalked it up to youthful indiscretion; that’s the short and simple way to restate how I’d adjusted. For Rachel, it was impossible to digest. Or to cast outside her psyche.

I slipped my feet inside my house shoes and exited Leah’s bedroom, grabbing a quick gaze inside Lyndell’s bedroom across the hall. Oh, to go back in time, to happier days, the house bustling with mine and Rachel’s two teenagers, both adopted but happy when we moved to New Haven in 2000 and bought this house.

I did not linger. I descended the stairs, eager to take a shower in the master bathroom before driving to the cemetery. Although I had made progress, this pattern was more than habit. It was an addiction. For the first ten months after Rachel’s suicide, I would begin each day by visiting her at Eastwood Cemetery, always arriving before dawn. Now, and for the past seven weeks, I had painfully reduced my fix to once per week, still arriving every Saturday before sunrise. The next expected step in my therapeutic recovery would be a once per month visit, but I doubted that would ever happen. Neither of us could survive with such infrequent injections: her dose of trust and loyalty I gave her, and my dose of practical needfulness she gave me.


I opted to skip the shower. The house was cold. So was I. It had been an unusually warm fall in New England, and I had not yet switched the unit to HEAT. It was time for cooler, if not colder, weather. I was inside our walk-in closet searching for warmer clothes when I heard my cell vibrating. I returned to the bathroom and grabbed my iPhone, face down on the granite vanity. It was odd my mother-in-law was calling so early. It was only 4:20.

“What’s wrong?” I said, knowing the news could not be good. I normally did not skip a cordial greeting.

“A good morning to you, too. I knew you would be up.” Since my student days in law school in the late 70s, I had been an early riser. Rachel and her mother were close. Rosa’s voice, always pleasant, always proper. Like Rachel’s. Both women had been English teachers.

“Sorry. Morning. I have been up for a while. Are you okay?” Rosa and Rob, in their mid-eighties, retired Southern Baptist missionaries, spent most of their married lives in China. They now shared a three-room suite at Bridgewood Gardens, an assisted living facility in Albertville, Alabama.

“I’m fine. We’re fine. Lee, I know this is short notice, but would you have some time to meet, maybe this morning?” It confused me. I live in New Haven, Connecticut. That’s a long way from the Yellowhammer state. I was unaware my in-laws had been planning a trip.

After an unnatural pause, I said, “sure.”

During the next several minutes, Rosa declared she and Rob were about an hour away, in New Rochelle, New York. Two days ago, they had felt “smothered” and planned a road trip, including a visit to see me. It had been too long. Almost a year, to be exact. The weekend we buried Rachel. Before Rosa ended our call, she said, “Lee, there’s also a legal issue we need to run by you.”

I suggested they come to the house around 7:00 but Rosa would not have it: “I don’t want to rekindle those memories, and practically, I don’t want you scurrying around to tidy up the place.”

I’d agreed and first recommended Denny’s on Sawmill Road, then changed my mind to Bella’s, my local favorite. It was downtown New Haven, near the law school. Although it made for a longer drive for us all, the food would be much better.


The drive to Eastwood Cemetery was only two miles, something Rachel had thought important when she insisted we purchase our burial plots. I would always believe it was more than coincidence she had demanded we complete our “pre-planning” four months before her death.

I turned left and slowed my speed to five miles per hour before passing beneath the rock archway. Beyond the entrance was sacred ground, according to Gordon, the head caretaker of the twenty-seven acres. The gently rolling hills with intricately aligned rows of headstones always reminded me of a game of dominoes, even though any toppling could not start the process given the widely spaced graves.

Even with minimal light, I could see Gordon already busy. He was loading his lawn mowers, weed eaters, and an assortment of tools on his work trailer when I passed the maintenance shed on my right. We exchanged waves, though I doubted he could see mine.

Rachel’s grave was on Gethsemane Trail. Eastwood had used the Bible as its only source for naming the perfectly designed pathways. The major routes, the tributaries—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—formed a square, two running east and west and two north and south, all lying as a circumference on the outer reaches of the twenty-seven-acre tract. The trails sprouted from the tributaries and ran east and west.

I drove north on Luke and turned right on Gethsemane. Rachel’s grave was in the middle, on the upper side of the trail. I exited my Tahoe and removed the lawn chair from inside the rear hatch. The sun was just coming up when I positioned myself to the right of the headstone, just outside the stone foot-markers to Rachel’s plot. The thick grass was reaching for the sky. Gordon, the barber, would be along before noon with clippers and shears at the ready.

“Good morning, Rachel Anne.” She always hated me for verbalizing her middle name. I mostly honored her request while she was living, but now I wanted to be mean. Sort of. Since I would not dare cuss her or figuratively give her a beating, I resigned to the dastard-like greeting.

She did not respond, but continued her early morning duties. I had always had a vivid imagination, and now was no different. I pictured the tall brunette scurrying around the kitchen before another day of teaching high school English, no doubt spreading an extra layer of mayonnaise on the sandwich she would eat at her desk while reading essays or developing lesson plans.

“You’d be proud of me.” I wondered if other husbands, widowers they’re called, visited their wives’ graves and talked to them as though sitting hand in hand in low slung chairs in burning sand watching the ocean waves roll forward.

“Why?” she said, tossing her silky hair over a shoulder as her eyes stole a glance my way. She filled her Yeti with another cup of coffee, grabbed her lunchbox, blew me a kiss, and waited anxiously for my reply as she opened the back door to the deck.

“I’ve agreed to help Professor Stallings. With the interviewing.” My good friend, twenty years my senior, Bert Stallings, head of the law school’s civil torts department, had long promoted women’s rights. Rachel, while living, was not a big fan, but she was happy I had expanded my social network, something I had trouble doing ever since my childhood friend, Kyle Bennett, had gone missing in tenth grade.

“Good.” Rachel was off to Amity Regional High School without asking a single follow-up question.

I poured a cup of coffee from my old green Thermos. I had loved Rachel since the ninth grade. That was my secret. It was not until we were both in college that I had shared my early high school infatuation.

It had happened suddenly, at first sight. It was the first day of school, a hot and muggy August morning in Mrs. Stamps’ English class. I’m sure I was a distant planet to the smart sounding girl sitting across the aisle and one seat forward. Probably, I was an undiscovered planet. Rachel was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. Later, at the midmorning break, I learned from Kyle that she and her brother, along with their missionary parents, had returned from China for a two-year furlough.

It was six years later, at the University of Virginia, we had our first conversation. We had both been students living in Charlottesville for a year and a half, wholly unaware of the other’s presence, before we had our chance meeting in the Student Union. Rachel always called it a miracle. Less than a month later, we had our first date. By the end of summer, after our sophomore year, we married.

Another old memory arrived. During our ninth and tenth-grade years, I never generated the courage to talk to Rachel, much less ask her for a date. Eleventh grader Ray Archer had latched onto her by the second week of ninth grade. That was 1968. Now that I think about it, Rachel and family returned to China before Christmas of tenth grade. No doubt breaking Ray’s heart.

My right leg suddenly cramped. Instantly I stood. The remains of my Thermos spilled onto the ground. I walked twice around Rachel’s grave to relieve my pain. I hated getting older. It was awful to be sixty-six, not that I was in poor health, but because of the mental pressure. I simply could not shake my guilt. Although Rachel had consoled me after her failed suicide attempt and surprise confession, I still strongly believed I was at fault. I should have helped the woman I had fallen in love with at first sight. It was my fault she had not found peace during those stressful six months before she toppled the chair beneath her noose. These guilty, gut-wrenching feelings were like what I had felt when Kyle had gone missing. My firm belief was that I had failed my best friend. After his disappearance, I was alone. I am alone now after Rachel’s suicide. The bottom line is, neither Kyle nor Rachel could trust me as a friend.

I stood for the longest next to Rachel’s headstone. Facing east, I felt the rising sun as though I was two feet from a heat lamp. I removed my hat, keeping my eyes closed. Until the depressing thoughts attacked. I reopened my eyes when the image appeared: toppled chair, rope, the limp body of the woman I loved, the one who kept me at a distance. My dead wife’s secrets proved we had never been truly intimate.

I returned to my lawn chair, this time facing west, and removed the Sand Mountain Reporter from my leather binder. Rachel insisted I read the obituaries from our hometown newspaper. It was Thursday’s edition. As usual, it was thin, two sections, maybe ten or twelve-pages total.

Local deaths were always on page 3. I turned there automatically as usual, hardly glancing at the front page. I started at the top. Rachel insisted I read every one. Aloud.

“Norma Jean Silvers of Douglas, passed away peacefully at home on Sunday, November 1, 2020. She was 93 years of age.” After reading Norma’s civic and social club memberships and leadership roles, I skipped her education, employment, and religious history. I hoped Rachel didn’t mind. The SMR could get rather windy.

Jorene Horton was up next. I lost my place when my iPhone rang. It was probably Rosa reminding me to bring the book she had asked me to mail. That was nearly a month ago, and I was still searching for it in Rachel’s library.

I stood and removed my cell from my front left pocket. It was Gordon, probably using the old Samsung I’d given him Labor Day as a birthday present.

“Hey my friend. Sorry I didn’t stop to chat when I arrived.”

“Not’s a problem. I seed you and hope you’s well.” Gordon was humble, the most decent person I knew. He had been caretaker at Eastwood since he was a teenager. I did not know how old he was now, but he’d told me the only time he’d been away from the cemetery was during the “big war.” Although I had never seen it, Gordon lives alone in a little cabin through a patch of hickory trees on the northwest corner of the cemetery, out-of-sight from the intersection of Matthew and John.

We talked at least five minutes before he asked if starting his mower would upset me. He promised he would be almost out of earshot and would start on the far east end of Gethsemane. Of course, I did not mind.

I would have invited him over for a cup of coffee, but I was all out, and I was only halfway through the obits. I wished him well, but he’d already ended our call.

I checked the time before pocketing my iPhone. It was 6:16. Dang, I had to go. I folded the newspaper and tucked it inside my binder. “Sorry Rachel, I know you’ll understand my rush. Mom and Pop are in town. We’re meeting for breakfast. I sure wish you could join us.”

Sanity Snippet #13

I’ve spent the last three weeks contemplating a big change in my focus. My decision to discontinue my book coaching services is the result. This endeavor was consuming too much of my time and diminishing my drive, efforts, and resources to create my own novels.

For those who desire to learn more about the craft of writing, I offer the following links to the best resources I know:,,,,,, and I’m sure there are many others but the above are my favorites and most often used.

From now on, Sanity Snippets will be snapshots of my daily life, those things I’m doing—such as reading, writing, biking, photographing, and gardening—to maintain sanity while living in the most regressive state imaginable. Alabama.

This decision doesn’t mean I will stop encouraging others to pick up their pencil and start writing. Nothing has changed in that regard; I fully maintain that writing changed my life for the better, and it will yours. I’ll continue my attempts to motivate you to try writing, but now, will do so more informally, and without, of course, any hint to use my fee-based coaching services.

In my second paragraph, I intimated a strongly held belief that Alabama is a regressive state. I don’t intend for this blog to become a rant. However, I don’t live in a vacuum. Life goes on all around us and unless we live with our heads stuck in a desert hole, we cannot ignore the reality all around. To be regressive means to regress, and that means “movement backward to a previous and especially worse or more primitive state or condition.”

For now, all I’ll say is I sincerely believe my conclusion is fully rational—after living 49 years since graduating high school, and reading enough books (on both sides of the issues) to fill a library—the main contributing factors to this regressive state is the incestuous relationship between the Republican Party and Christian fundamentalism, not to say that each, on its own, cannot swiftly and securely return us all to the darkest of the dark ages.

Now, to today’s Sanity Snippet.

I normally start my morning with two to three hours of reading. Usually, by 7:00 a.m. at the latest, but often by 5:00. As the talented fiction writer Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I wholeheartedly agree. However, I’d like to make an amendment. If you want to learn and mature into an empathetic human being, you must read both fiction and nonfiction. And a lot of each.

I’m currently reading a book everyone should read: Enlightenment NOW, The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker. Per Google, “The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual and cultural movement in the eighteenth century that emphasized reason over superstition and science over blind faith.” The years 1715 to 1789 are oft-cited as the time-frame for this ‘Age.’ However, and thank goodness, yesterday was a day of enlightenment, as is today, and hopefully tomorrow will be the same (not to say superstition and faith aren’t energetic antagonists).

I think Mr. Pinker also believes the hard, cold facts give hope that 1789 was not the end of progress. Thus, our focus should be on reason, science, and humanism if we want the good trends to continue. Read what he said in response to an audience member’s question, “Why should I live?” (note, the question came after Pinker had discussed how most scientists conclude ‘that mental life consists of patterns of activity in the tissues of the brain.’):

“In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live! As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy—the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness—and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues. And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.” Pinker, Steven (2018-02-12T22:58:59). Enlightenment Now. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And this is my position too. Unless we “emphasize [] reason over superstition and science over blind faith,” we, as a society (and individually), will regress.

Grab a copy of Enlightenment Now.

For a taste of what you’ll learn, carefully study this graph showing the gigantic decrease in worldwide poverty over the past hundred plus years (and no, superstition or blind faith is not the cause).

Electrify your life: Secret yourself for eventful experiences

Today, are you weak and heavy-laden? If so, let me introduce you to the best friend you could hope for. One who can and will bear your griefs, trials, temptations, and troubles. One who can and will bring you joy and happiness, and provide a safe haven at your beck and call. Sorry, I’m not referencing an old gospel song. Gladly, I bring you something more powerful and enduring. It’s nothing more than the lowly pencil.

More particularly, the pencil is a bridge to life, one of meaning and purpose. As you know, The Pencil Driven Life is my blog. You’ve also figured out I use the word pencil symbolically, to represent all writing instruments, be it pencil, pen, stylus, or keyboard (physical or digital). Dictation via voice recorder along with smoke signals are included though transcription to paper or e-book form is required for both!

The instrument itself is of secondary importance. The point (ha) is to transport your thoughts, ideas, and words all the way from your brain to your notebook or hard-drive. This journey illustrates the pencil is a bridge to life, one of meaning and purpose. But, it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to walk across the bridge. Better still, grab your bike and peddle across the bridge. Take note, I didn’t promise the bridge was short. You have a lot of peddling to do.

Hopefully, I haven’t muddled things so much you’re not getting the idea. The pencil, the actual writing, is analogous to the walking or peddling across the bridge from where you are to the place you want to be. That place of joy and happiness, of meaning and purpose (I didn’t say a land absent trials and troubles), that place where you find that friend you’ve always wanted, one who will never leave or forsake you.

Think of writing as peddling. Do a little research. Peddling a bicycle can produce electricity. Of course, the setup has to be properly engineered. Thank goodness you don’t need to be an engineer or other type technical genius to produce the electricity that powers your life across the bridge to real life.

Let’s look at four benefits you’ll obtain if you’ll commit to peddling, uh, writing. You could think of these as way stations along your journey across that metaphorical bridge.

I’ll cover the first leg of our journey in this post, followed by the other three over the next couple of weeks.

By writing you’ll travel far and wide, gaining experiences you’ll never have in real life. Here’s my title for this phase. Electrify your life: Secret yourself for eventful experiences.

Before we proceed, let me clarify a couple of things. I’m speaking of creative writing, AKA, fiction writing. My ultimate aim is to convince you to write your own novel, but to start with short snippets count. Second, you’ll never become a writer unless you are a reader. Think about it. At a minimum, you’ll read and reread what you’ve written. But, you must read more broadly than that (again, I’m speaking of novel reading).

Here’s the point. Experiences change us. Your own personal experiences, like the one you had the other day out walking when your foot slipped off the rock and you got all wet when you fell into the creek.

Further, the experiences we have by reading about them are just as good. Research seems solid in concluding our brains make no difference in these two types. Whether we got all wet literally or figuratively, it’s the same.

So, what’s the importance of gaining experiences through reading. It puts us in the place of the character. Studies have shown readers become the protagonist or other key character in a novel. They hurt when he hurts. They laugh when he laughs. They’re afraid when he’s afraid. However, at little cost or threat to life or limb, the reader learns what he or she would do in a similar situation.

Want to know how Rachel feels as she rides the train into London and looks through the window at one particular house set back from the tracks and imagines the lives of Jessie and Jason (Rachel doesn’t know their real names) the current occupants? Want to know how you would feel and act if you were living Rachel’s life: divorced, dissatisfied, childless, virtually homeless (she rents a spare bedroom from former classmate Kathy), and mesmerized by Jessie and Jason who live a few houses from where she (Rachel) used to live when married to Tom? If you really want to know, then read The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.

Of course, this is just one of a zillion novels you could read. Want to know how you’d act and feel in a certain situation? Then go find a novel that provides that or similar scenario.

The more you read, the more your brain will change. Why? Because you will have been more places. You will have had more experiences. Do you think you’d be the same person today as you are if you had gone to Yale Medical School, followed by a residency in neurosurgery at Stanford? Read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi if you want a new experience. Note, I never said you cannot read nonfiction!

Now, back to your lowly pencil. Your own writing is a massive gateway to an unending line of wonderful and horrible experiences. You decide which type today, which type tomorrow. You have the power of the sword in your hand. With every alphabetic slash and jab you create or destroy lives and worlds, you bring sadness or happiness, you foreshadow events that ultimately connect Jess and Jason, a love affair like no other.

Wield your sword as you see fit. At 9:00 am you can be enjoying a mocha latte at the Caféothèque of Paris and by 10:00 you’ll be exiting your plane in Jackson Hole, Wyoming readying yourself to meet your father to discuss why he’s giving your sister his ranch in Dubois.

Never forget, experiences change us.

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In early September, we embarked on a long and detailed review of a wonderful story development tool known as Beemgee (fyi, that’s also the name of the company that created the tool).

Beemgee’s focus is both plot and character. We started with character. The three attributes we’ve considered so far are external problem, want, and goal. Today, let’s look at task.

Simply put, task is what the character has to complete to achieve the goal and solve the external problem. Task is all about what a character does, his actions. It’s not about what’s going on inside him. Rather, it’s about his external world and how he behaves toward it.

Think mission. Rarely does a character have to complete one task. A mission, say, to travel to the deep, dark cave and destroy the dragon, is comprised of a series of tasks. For example, the hero might have to investigate the cave’s location. He might have to acquire special supplies and weapons. He might have to enlist an ally or two. To accomplish the mission, our hero engages in a multitude of activities.

These actions, including what happens when our hero reaches the cave and engages the dragon, will fill a vast portion of our story plot. This fact should trigger at least a brief moment of satisfaction for us writers.

Think about it a minute (you might want to review the external problem, want, and goal posts (not goalposts). We’ve given our hero a problem he must address (it’s been festering for a while or it hit him out of the clear blue sky). He wants to be free of the problem, thus he sets a goal for himself. For example, he must kill the dragon before he can rescue the princess. Now, we’ve given him a mission comprised of a multitude of steps he must complete before he can achieve the goal and solve the external problem.

See how all this fits? Do you see how your story is developing? Of course, we’re just starting, but it appears Beemgee is a viable way to construct a story worth writing, and hopefully one attractive to our readers.

One final thought. Our protagonist isn’t the only one with these four attributes. Think about your antagonist. Commonly, his external problem is the protagonist and what he’s trying to achieve. Thus, the antagonist’s goal is to stop the protagonist by pursuing a mission filled with multiple steps.

Characters with opposing goals create conflict. These battles are seen all along the path toward goal fulfillment, no matter whose goal we’re talking about. During every action by the protagonist to complete a task (locate the map that reveals the cave), he is faced with opposition, a hardy resistance to his success.

And, everyone knows without conflict, there is no story.

Take out a pencil and start thinking about the task your protagonist must accomplish to achieve his goal. Do the same for your antagonist and his helpers. By the way, does your protagonist have an ally with a somewhat conflicting goal? Will it hinder your hero in some small or large way?

This activity will help you learn more about your characters. Remember, they are defined by the actions they take. Don’t be too dictatorial, you might miss out on how they can surprise you.

Photo by Andrei Tanase on

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Sanity Snippet #12

In Sanity Snippet #11 we determined our inciting incident (what gets our story moving). Today, let’s consider the opening image.

As the name suggests, this image should be unveiled at the beginning of our story. Many experts contend it should come shortly before the inciting incident. Naturally, it should reveal the protagonist in his ordinary world (recall, that’s his life before he sets off on his adventure at the end of Act I).

Let’s step back, we’re not editing our manuscript. We are developing our story. We are a long way from writing our first draft. Sanity Snippets are all about getting started with our novel. Much will likely change later on. For example, the inciting incident we recently chose, may change. The point is, we need to start somewhere. Also, as to the timing of the opening image, don’t get bogged down on whether to choose a day, week, month, or year prior to the inciting incident. The goal is simply to make a decision and go forward.

Keep this quote in mind as you plod along:

Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.

Stephen King

Here’s an exercise you could try. Grab a pencil and start free-writing. Think about your hook, the inciting incident, and your first act break. What ties these together? Or could? Brainstorm, jot down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about them being far-fetched. You are thinking. You are writing. You are engaged with story creation. It can be messy and frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding.

Let’s say the story idea you’ve been developing throughout these Sanity Snippets has a politician as the protagonist. He’s already served as state representative and governor. Now, he wants to run for U.S. Senate.

Maybe the inciting incident you choose is his fifteen year old teenage daughter who is coming to live with him. And, she’s pregnant (her backstory could be any number of things, as could that of your protagonist).

Maybe your protagonist is an opportunist of sorts and chooses to ‘use’ his pregnant teenage daughter to promote his senatorial campaign. At the first act break, he reveals she will not have an abortion (protagonist is against, even says “all abortion is murder.”).

Now, what is your opening image? What is your protagonist doing twenty-four or forty-eight hours before he learns his teenage daughter is coming to live with him (backstory: what if she was a mistake? Meaning, the daughter is the product of an illicit affair fifteen years ago?)?

Maybe he is giving a campaign speech revealing his position on abortion? Maybe he is in church (is he religious? Probably, but it’s your story) listening to his pastor preach his most aggressive pro-life sermon? Keep brainstorming. In the context of the example, raw materials start surfacing because you have gained entrance into your story through the process we’ve been pursuing in the Sanity Snippet series.

Keep thinking, keep writing, and remember, you don’t have to get it right the first time. Your story may change as you continue to outline. It may change during the writing of your first draft. Stay engaged and story will slither up beside you.

Question: is today a good day to commit to a regular writing routine?

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