Sparked by Words

The View from the Shower Caps

The view from the shower caps gave me another point of view about my story. First you have to understand what I mean about the shower caps.

I drive an old car. It’s heading toward its seventeenth birthday, still serviceable, but showing its age. What once was shiny black is now weathered charcoal, what had been well stitched is frayed, and the leather head rests on the back seats are crackled like antique china from roasting in the relentless sun all day. So I came up with a brilliant idea because when you can’t come up with a great paying job in order to purchase a new car, you manufacture great ideas instead.

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To protect the head rests, I covered them with white plastic shower caps. They stretched to cover, they tucked quickly, and they resembled white pleather. They protected the rests from further sun damage. How silly, you say, and you would be right, because several months later the shower caps flaked, chipped, and fell off the rests in chunks, landing on the car seats to decorate the jeans of travelers riding in the back. A short respite from the sun but proof of how relentlessly destructive it is.

Next I covered the rests with pink flowered terry wash cloths, and so far they’ve done a good job without casting loose strands on the back seat. (Ask me in a year if I’ve had to come up with another brilliant idea or if the wash cloths are still doing the job. Yeah, I’m still gonna have this old car in another year.) I stood on the sidewalk and stared through the back window at my newest idea and thought, yeah, gimme a problem, I’ll make a fixit.

I try to find and apply life skills from every opportunity, however bizarre or obscure, so it was natural that I learned something important from my car. Cars can u-turn and so can I. I’d been working on one of my books for a long while when I started trying to save the head rests. Like the old rests, some things about the book were not working. One reviewer stated that the story lacked insight. That hurt. It implied that I lacked insight. It implied that as a person I had no depth, couldn’t make meaningful connections, or impose important value in my character’s actions. As a writer, I recognized that was accurate. I had little substance, or if I did, it wasn’t showing up in my book.

Imagine my conundrum with my book, Lolli and the New Car. It’s a story about middle-aged Lolli who needs a new car, and all her adventures in choosing it. OK, it’s a fake story, but it will work for purposes of demonstration. Lolli looks at all the dealers in the area, is tempted by the terrific financing at one, the fabulous options at the next, and the low prices of the third. Wandering around the lot of her choice, she wonders if she should have invited her hubby to join her in car scouting or if she should just go pick out the red one – or the blue one – or the black one – and surprise him. Lolli chooses white, because it’s just so shiny, from the dealer offering the best options, trades in her old car, and drives the new one home. Cowboy, that’s her hubby, meets her on the driveway, aghast at her impulsive behavior, announces he’s headed to the divorce lawyer in order to find himself in unattached solitude, and leaves Lolli in tears as he peels away – in the new car. The rest of the book chronicles Lolli’s efforts to salvage the marriage with her rodeo king on the white horse (OK, in her new white car) – she gives him his own key to the ignition – and ends happily ever after with the renewal of their vows in the back seat of Whitey.

Not a bad story. (OK, it’s a terrible story, but how much do you me want to invest in a fake story?) See, as I considered it from the perspective of the shower caps, I realized what my story was missing. Depth, consequences, relationship history, insight, lifelong values lessons. In the re-write, I contrived a back story about Cowboy’s complaint that Lolli was painfully dependent upon him to make all decisions and a pain in the butt with her impulse shopping. I added internal dialogue from Lolli’s POV, showing how she wanted to show Cowboy that he didn’t have to hold her hand at every crosswalk, she was a big girl now, and she’d done a ton of research about cars before making her choice.

Lolli finally realizes that it’s Cowboy who’s truly the impulsive half of the marriage, as evidenced by him pilfering her new car for his independence break and peeling out on the marriage at the drop of a new tire. He’s projected all his own doubts and bad habits onto Lolli in order to blame her for the failure of their vows. She remembers all of Cowboy’s whispers late at night, though not to her, the emails he erased as soon as she walked into the room, a few whiffs of a perfume she doesn’t wear. She knows the marriage will never live to see old age and hires her own lawyer. Lolli also realizes she is a truly independent woman who doesn’t need to be attached by a lasso to a cowboy, and will do just fine in her own rodeo. The end of the newer version shows the couple signing divorce papers while leaning on Whitey’s hood. Grittier, more realistic if a little darker, and engaging. (Pretend, readers, pretend. It’s an example.)

The entire next year I undertook a total re-evaluation of my real book, reading it front to back, in chunks and chapters, finding the empty spaces my reviewer had spotted. I pulled out thousands of words, not only the empty ones such as like, that, nice, sweet, tiny, very, and a dozen others we all know are cheap but vacuous filler. I also deleted whole chapters, ones I’d scraped off my eyelids, yanked off the souls of my feet, and pulled from my gut. Chapters I’d struggled to write as well as possible but finally decided to dump on the computer’s floor. They weren’t working. They described moments and showed a little action the way toddlers show a little tolerance toward other toddlers. But they weren’t essential and they’d added fluff without content.

I walked around my house and hiked through the nearby woods, thinking relevant details, imagining a universal theme, planning resolution with an impact on the protagonist and the reader, and identifying the loose pieces and a way to pull them tight. Home again, I tackled my story with a new fervor for adding something of value. I tore apart many chapters and refitted them with internal dialogue or action. It meant considering what the main characters really needed and whether they’d achieved their goals, if resolution had occurred, not just if the book arrived at an end point. Then I read my book once more, front to back, out loud, and realized it was much improved. Sounds loosey goosey but in essence I’d added content and context to my story, infusing it with the kind of thoughtful purpose that a story should imply for readers.

Why had the shower caps inspired such wisdom? They looked classy but proved a shallow and flimsy solution. The wash cloths had more substance and endurance. That ultimately is what my story needed.

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Comments on: "The View from the Shower Caps" (22)

  1. You should see my curtains on the south side of my house. They are brittle from the sun, in tatters. I really need to replace them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, saying it aloud…so important because that’s what people hear in their reader mind…like, “Please tell me a story so I can listen to it..” You must be a very fine teacher, Sharon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bonnie. I did love teaching.
      Despite all the texting and emailing and e-reading devices, we are story tellers and listeners, still sitting around the campfire, spell bound by Old Grandfather gesturing about the hunt for deer. That’s me, storyteller at the campfire. And you too, though your language is more pithy.

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  3. Shari B-P, I love your associations – your mind making connections that most others would never see.
    xxxxxx j.
    Shower caps are meant for protection. Stories should soak to the marrow . . . drowning in words – there are worse deaths.

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    • Judy, you wrote an incredible poem –
      Shower caps are meant for protection. Stories should soak to the marrow . . . drowning in words – there are worse deaths.
      How did you get that from a post essentially about under writing a story? Your associations are incredible. Talk about seeing a different perspective from the most banal things – just wow, I’m awed.

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  4. What a fascinating commentary. It gave me another perspective about narrative.

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  5. I enoyed reading this. Especially how you had to go back to dissect, destroy, eliminate, and add life to your work. Many people think writing a novel is just create, but the actual creaton of a novel occurs during the editing process. That is when we put meat on the bones and remove fat from the tissues.

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    • You’re absolutely correct, Andrew. It was a humbling experience to see my book through someone else’s eyes, proof that early readers are essential to a story’s development. It had taken four years to write the book, which included hours and hours of research about the time period it’s set in and other specific factors. I’d brought it, in chapters, before my writer’s critique group for years and taken the feedback seriously, often changing or adding according to suggestions. It had been through three full self-edits. So it wasn’t a first draft that went before the reader who showed me the book’s empty pockets. It was a well polished story that I was proud to share. But, as proven, there was lots more work to do, so I evaluated the comments and went back to work. I’m not sure a book is ever “done,” but this one is now ready to go out and face the world. Thank you for your observant comment about the writer’s struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You piqued my curiosity wth your comment regarding a book ever being “done.” At one time can we stop the edits and say it is complete and as good as possible??

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      • Of course, Andrew. It’s up to the individual writer to determine when they feel satisfied with their work and to know when their book is complete. But if you give your book to 3 readers, you’ll get at least 300 comments about what to “correct,” and then you might find yourself on the carousel of fixing to please. I’ve also heard about agents demanding significant changes before they’ll begin to approach editors.
        I think you’re at about the same place with your books that I am: querying agents. May we both see success in near future.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We are in the exact same place. I have one novel in the querying stage. An older manuscript is getting a refreshing edit. Best wishes on your journey. No looking back.

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      • I spent last summer doing a final edit on my three novels; one is being read by an astute reviewer. So, agreed, no looking back.

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  6. I have this strong need to clinch with both hands the coolness of a shower cap and the softness of a pink flowered Terry wash cloth. There’s something in the way they make me feel…you’re a writer, Shari. A writer. Sigh. (Pity the shower caps never stood a chance, they appeared helpful in the beginning. And in the end they were what you needed to see where you were going.) Loved this so much.

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    • Audrey, thank you so much for your sweet, encouraging comments. I’d just been looking for a quick, cheap sun-buffer for my old car, and it gave me a chance to improve my story. But then I do look for story everywhere I go and in everything I do. Thank you, thank you, friend.

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  7. I’ve just discovered that you are posting again and what a post. Sometimes you need the shower cap time to elapse in order to look objectively at face flannels to see what needs to be done. Glad to hear that your flannel edit has produced a better product than you thought you had before and a wonderful inspiration to those of us going through the editing and re-editing that you can get there eventually. As I will all these posts I have missed but on a deadline at the moment so bit by bit.

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    • I’m so glad you re-discovered my blog, Irene, and thank you for reading this one. You and I seem to be in about the same place with our books, though I’m just past the editing stage and trying to get a basic query letter into shape. I’m determined to have my three books published, and as if that wasn’t enough, have started a third novel plus a series of short stories based on my grandparents’ lives about 100 years ago. Then in my spare time….. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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