I've just spent a lovely week with my daughter Deb and our 19 month old grandson, Weston, visiting from Santa Fe. Weston is learning to talk, and it's amazing what he does with his somewhat limited vocabulary. He tells entire stories with just four words. "Ball?" he says to me. Ever the compliant Grandma, I grab the ladybug ball. "Knee," he says, and points to his knee. "The ball hit your knee," I say, remembering the story his mama told me. He nods sadly, blows a kiss and puts it on his knee. "And Mommy kissed it to make it better." He nods again. "Hat," he says, pointing to his head. I smile. "Yes, you were wearing your hat when the ball hit you."
Weston sits back then, the tension relaxes from his body and he smiles. He has told his story and been heard. And he's done an amazing job of it! We have a main character, a problem and a resolution to the problem. (Mommy kissed his knee.) We even have some setting: the hat he was wearing!
Sometimes I think it behooves us in our writing to keep it simple, to look at those basic elements: plot, character, setting, when we get stuck. I just got off the phone, after going over a manuscript edit I did for a client, a wonderful and moving story of a young man struggling with the guilt of his best friend's death, for which he feels responsible. My client is struggling with this very thing: getting back to the basics, getting rid of those extra scenes that don't move the story forward. I consoled him, telling him of my same struggle as I rework yet another revision of my current novel, Finding Nonna--the story of a 12 year-old dealing with her beloved grandmother who has Alzheimer's Disease. So many wonderful scenes have bit the dust as I try to get back to the basics. I think this week as I write, I'll think of Weston, and take my cues from him: "Ball, Knee, Kiss, hat." Sometimes that says it all! Weston may not fully know it yet, but this week he gave me a Sound from his Heart, and I am grateful.