All writers need something to guide them through the story they are telling. For some it is an outline. For me, it is a mantra of sorts: Stay low, and follow the trail. This may not seem like much, but it has served me very well. Especially the staying low part. There is a scene in the filmed version of Lord of Rings where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas come upon the scene of a large battle. They have been looking for Merry and Pippin, who had been captured by orcs, and Gimili and Legolas begin to despair, presuming their friends dead. But Aragorn crouches low and discovers a footprint here, a cut rope there, and soon, amid the maelstrom of orc and horse prints in the grass, he is able to sort out Merry and Pippin’s tracks and discern that the two hobbits escaped into the forest.
This is how writing often feels to me. When I view my story from an intellectual distance, I see only the chaos of footprints, any of which could be the thread I am to follow. All those footprints can feel like a problem, and so there is a great temptation to begin thinking, for thinking is how we are taught to solve problems. Only stories aren’t problems, and thinking will only create a problem that thinking can’t solve. I need to get low and follow that trail.
I have lived much of my life at a dizzying intellectual height from which everything looks puny and meaningless, though all the easier to judge. It is an endless Ferris wheel ride of a life. The crowded, sticky-sweet carnival may have pretty lights and noises, but one can too easily become lost and overlooked while in it. Yet that is where all the stories are being told, where all promises are made and broken, and all love is lost and found.
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