When writing the big moment, keep it simple.
March 7, 2016
I HAD WRITTEN a tearjerker.
Every novel needs a couple regardless of the genre.
Love a few.
Shoot a few.
Laugh a little.
Then unplug the tear ducts and turn the tears loose.
Here was the situation.
Sam and Thomas had been separated when both were twenty-one.
Sam was a girl.
Her name was short for Samantha.
It’s not original, but I like it.
Thomas had boarded a train in Salinas, Kansas, and headed West.
War was taking him away.
It was the big war.
And broken hearts.
Sam gave Thomas a watch before he left.
It wasn’t expensive.
But it was all she could afford.
And on the back, she had a jeweler inscribe: Tomorrow Is Ours.
He clasped the watch in his hand.
I will carry it always, he said.
Thomas kissed her goodbye.
Sam waved goodbye.
The train rolled past the fields and faded from sight.
Sam dreamed of Thomas nightly.
She could still feel his lips upon hers.
She never saw him again.
The years passed, then ran together, and finally they began to unravel and fade like the train did on a long ago day in early winter.
On her seventy-third birthday, Sam sat reading and saw the story in a newspaper.
Below the fold.
The headline was small.
But so was the story.
It said: The body of a homeless man with no known next of kin was discovered last night beneath an abandoned boxcar in a South Chicago train yard. He has not yet been identified. He had little more than the clothes on his back and was wearing a watch that had stopped at four thirty-two, but no one knows which year. On the back was inscribed: Tomorrow Is Ours.
Sam stared at the newspaper for a long time, hardly breathing.
Was it her Thomas?
What had happened to him?
What hadn’t he come back to her?
What had the war done to him?
And I wrote:
“Her eyes filled with tears, and they fell warm and salty upon her cheeks. The tears came from her heart, from down deep in her soul, and they spilled like years of grief and heartbreak and disappointment upon the newsprint. The ink ran, and the words vanished from the page as Thomas had vanished like faded love from her life.”
I don’t know when the Muse showed up.
My mind and senses had been caught in the grip of Sam’s sadness and despair.
I heard the Muse breathing before I saw him.
He was looking over my shoulder and reading the last passage I had written.
“Pretty powerful, isn’t it?” I said.
He shook his head.
“Too many words.”
“I needed them all,” I said.
“To make sure everyone really understood the anguish that Sam was feeling.”
“It’s a big moment,” the Muse said.
“During big moments,” he said, “keep it simple.”
“What do you mean?”
“How long do you think people will remember what you’ve written?”
“Keep it simple and nobody will ever forget it,” the Muse said.
“What do you mean?”
“Write it like John did?”
“What was so good about John’s writing?”
“He kept it simple.”
The Muse smiled and sat back in the leather chair in the corner.
“It was a big moment, and John could have written it with fifty some odd words like you did. But John kept it simple, and people remember it still.”
“What did John write?”
In my novel, Little Lies, the big moment takes only five words. I’m working to shorten it.