“There’s more to Godiva than just her pivotal ride through Coventry,” I tell my 18 year old son, “and I want to show that, but I’m struggling with how to keep the ride from being the turning point where readers expect it to end.”
“You need another thread of tension that starts before the ride, is impacted by the ride, then extends beyond it before it’s resolved,” he says without missing a beat. “That way the ride is important but it isn’t the be all, end all.”
“You’re exactly right,” I say, looking at my son in awe. It’s so simple, so clear and so fundamentally correct; yet, I had gotten lost in the story and couldn’t see the most obvious solution.
This isn’t the first time my son has awed me with his creative skills. I pride myself in being a story-teller, but his ability to weave a tale far exceeds my limited talents. He understands structure and arc and threads at a level that I only realize is there but can’t see clearly myself. When I look back at what I’ve written, I can see those elements of story-telling coming through, or sometimes I recognize after the fact they aren’t coming through and need to be brought to the surface more, but rarely do I consciously think about them as I’m developing the story and I work hard in my rewrites to ensure they are there. I let the story unfold and then go back to see if there is arc, character building, threads to the next phase of the story. My stories would be richer and deeper if structure came more naturally to my mind in the midst of my writing instead of as an after-thought.
Structure, arc, character-development, conflict, theme, and every other element that makes a story great comes naturally to my son. It’s second nature for him and he weaves every element of great story deliberately into every scene he writes, every character he introduces, and every plot point he develops. It’s why his stories are epic, filled with fantastic detail, and played out by a huge cast that are all connected eventually. I often marvel at the minds of writers like Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), perplexed at how they even began to develop such expansive casts of characters and weave them so strategically and brilliantly into such huge stories. My son tells me his stories as he is developing the m, explaining the importance of each character and the role they will play as the story unfolds, and the themes that will be tied to their arc, and I think I now understand how the minds of Diana Gabaldon and J.R.R. Martin must work. I’m envious of the creative power of these brains, yet so completely in awe to see this power I do not have blossoming in my son.
I’ve always been impressed with Braden’s imagination and his ability to entertain himself with the worlds he creates in his head. When he was seven, we drove from northern Minnesota to the southernmost part of the Florida Keys in a truck pulling a trailer for four long days on the road. I packed everything I could think of to entertain a seven year old boy — cars, dinosaurs, games, dvd player and a stack of his favorite movies as well as some new ones (this was before smart phones and hoards of electronic games were so easily available at every child’s fingertips). Out of nearly 40 hours in the car, he spent less than three of those hours watching movies or playing with toys; he spent about 37 of those hours filling five plain paper notebooks, front to back, with drawings and stories of dinosaurs and dragons. It was the first time I realized that his imagination had epic tendencies.
I look at him now, sitting across from me in the back yard, giving me advice on how to bridge the gap I’m struggling with in my own story writing, and realize I shouldn’t be so shocked at the depth of his abilities, though I will always be awed by it. All the things I’ve loved about him most as a child have culminated into a pretty amazing young adult. As a child, I loved his imagination that took us on dragon hunts through the woods in our back yard, the compassion and empathy he showed for others when they were sick or hurt, the insight he showed in trying to understand what motived other people to do the things they did, his refusal to blindly conform to what was expected of him (I must admit, I didn’t always love this about him, but I envy it now), and his ability to see things from a different angle. All of these things have made him into an amazing adult with a mind that I will probably always find boggling for its depth of creativity.
Parenting never ends, but it does change; we’ve entered a new phase of parenting, Fritz and I. We no longer have a boy needing us to give him structure and prodding him to stay on the right course; we now have a young man who needs us to step back and let him spread his (dragon) wings. Now the guidance we offer is only that, offered, not forced or required to be followed. It’s an odd feeling as a parent to realize that your roll with your child has changed, but I’m finding I’m reveling in it much more than I ever expected. This new found territory where we have discussions, offer each other advice, whether about writing or about life, and mull over the wisdom of the other is a new stage of our relationship with our son, and I’m finding it to be sweeter than I ever imagined it could be.