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MFA in Writing at Vermont College

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Broken Suitcases

I hate it when my suitcase breaks!

As a business traveler I pride myself on not looking wrinkled and disheveled while carrying heavy bags through the terminal.  I avoid long lines by constantly scoping out the TSA path, careful not to get behind old people or strollers.  I never carry liquid in my carry on, never buy a belt with a metal latch and I only wear slip on shoes.  That is why I absolutely hate broken luggage. 

Yet, there I was on a recent trip to Brevard County, Florida hunched over, lugging my forty-five pound suitcase across the rental car parking lot because the handle on my suitcase would no longer work. 

It doesn’t take much to break a suitcase.  In fact, I go through at least two of them a year.  And the majority of the time it is the handle that does me in.  The handle slides up and down on two thin rails and all it takes is one heavy bag to come down just right and the track is bent and the roller won’t move.  I tried every tool available in a hotel room to fix the handle (yellow pages, coat hanger, bible, towels, and the flimsy room service menu). Nothing worked. 

The good news out of all of this is that as I was hammering on the rails with a Marriot pen it suddenly dawned on me what was wrong with my story.

My desire line was bent!

A character needs a clear desire line that smoothly moves all the way through the book much like the track on my suitcase.  If my desire line gets bent or moves off track in some way the story is not going to flow smoothly from beginning to end – and like my suitcase, the story will be broken.

So, I took my Marriot pen and outlined my character’s desires and needs on a tiny hotel pad of paper.  What I found was that I was off track.  I was writing scenes that were getting away from my desire line.  Thank goodness for broken luggage!

More good news… When I got home I saw that Kohls was having a sale on luggage… I wonder if I can buy a story while I am there as well!

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