Should the girl stay or go in a story?

In Casablanca, regardless of what the Muse says, it would have been a sin to lose either Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman.
In Casablanca, regardless of what the Muse says, it would have been a sin to lose either Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman.

I WATCH A LOT of suns rise on the far side of the lake at my home in Hideaway.

I wish I didn’t. I wish I were asleep.

But time is the only gift we have, and I don’t want to waste either time or my gifts, so I sit in the dark of the morning and watch the world wake up. It does so slowly.

On good mornings, the Muse leaves me alone. I have thoughts, good and bad, but they sift through my brain at a leisurely pace. On bad days, the Muse beats the sun up.

He says he simply drops by to visit. He’s lying.

The Muse is there to finish off the coffee, sweep the crumbs from the table, and hurry me back to work. His schedule is pretty brutal.

I need a scene rattling around in my head by 5:30. That’s what he tells me. I need to have a conversation with my lead character by six just so I have an idea of what will be happening during the next thousand words.

It’s always a short conversation. Mainly he wants to know if I have any plans to kill him off by noon.

“I think you should,” the Muse says.

“Why?” I want to know.

“He saved a girl’s life in chapter three,” the Muse says.

“He did.”

“He was in her bedroom drinking wine by chapter five,” the Muse says.

“He was.”

“She was in his arms by chapter seven,” the Muse says.

“Cheek to cheek,” I tell him.

“He kisses her once,” the Muse says.

“Once is enough,” I say.

“Then he walks out the door.”

“He has a job to do.”

“Does he leave to save the Western civilized world?” the Muse wants to know.

“He doesn’t.”

“I don’t think the job’s as important as the girl?” the Muse says.

“It is to the hero,” I say.

“That’s why the hero’s got to go,” the Muse says.

“Maybe you should spend some time with the girl,” I tell the Muse.

“I did.”

“And what did she tell you?”

“The hero’s got to go.” The Muse shrugs. “She thinks you need to bring in a real, red-blooded, hot and passionate American Romeo,” he says.

“What about the story?” I ask.

“She doesn’t give a damn about the story,” the Muse says.

“The hero stays.” I am adamant.

“Then you’ll lose the girl,” the Muse says.

“That happens to me a lot,” I say.

We watch the sun crease the sky. It’s no higher than the bottom limb of the oak tree, nothing more than a thin red line cutting through a thunderhead.

The morning promises rain. The morning is making false promises again.

It does that a lot in Texas.

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