When To Dive Deep In Your Story

cover

Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Diving Deep

When is the right time in a story to go on a deep detailed dive about a seemingly unrelated topic?

Never. It’s all related or it’s not in there. But when you do go into a deep dive, readers instinctively know it’s for a reason.

Be careful not to be boring, even in the deep stuff, but tie it in – or hint to readers that it ties in.

That’ll be enough to get their radar up. 

Doug is a sensitive guy, not macho like Tyree and not bold like his childhood friend Jimmy. Maybe it’s not important why, but a side bar can go a long way toward letting us string together stuff the author – me – had spread out.

It’s like a game. Where’s this headed?

If it pays off, everyone loves the writer and it’s a work of genius.

If it doesn’t, it’s a piece of CRAP.

High stakes.

Be bold and roll the dice. Gamble on yourself. It’s enough that one person gets it.

I told you: great writing isn’t safe.


Chapter 26, “FINAL”

 

I stared at the dead body. “Can I touch him?”

I had never seen a dead person before and I was a little afraid. We stood near the casket, my Uncle Glen and I, staring at a small old man laid out in a dark gray suit.

“You can touch him.” My godfather put his hand on my shoulder. “He was your great-grandfather and he loved you.”

I was eight years old, trying to be brave. My uncle held my hand as we stood in line, waiting our turn to pay our respects. The room was large and nearly full to capacity, but it was very quiet.

Glen spoke softly. “I think he would like it if you touched him on the hand to say goodbye.”

I lifted my left hand and reached into the coffin, extending a finger, easing it past the edge of the wood coffin.

The only place that seemed touchable was his hand. The rest of my great-grandfather was covered in his dark gray suit, except for his face. I did not want to touch his face. Even at the age of eight I knew that would be disrespectful.

As if in slow motion, I stretched out my arm and touched a fingertip to the back of his pale hand.

It was soft. And it wasn’t cold; it was room temperature, like an expensive, soft leather glove. As a kid, I had seen so many monster movies with Dracula and Frankenstein, I was nearly out of my mind with curiosity, thinking about actually touching a dead person. But that was at home. As I reached out toward the hand of my deceased great-grandfather, the moment was different. None of the drama of movies happened.

He didn’t feel much like a person should. I had anticipated that his hand would not feel warm—in movies they always talk about a dead body being cold. But more than that, I had expected it to be firm. But there was no living muscle behind it anymore to make it firm. And he didn’t flinch or twitch as you would expect a sleeping person to do.

He just lay there motionless.

As I watched, his chest didn’t rise and fall like my dad’s did during an afternoon nap. He didn’t brush my finger away like you might if you thought it was a fly crawling on your hand.

He didn’t jump up and scream, like in scary movies. He didn’t groan and slowly rise up from the coffin, sending everyone screaming out of the room.

He didn’t move at all.

It was just the hand of a man who had moved on from this life and this body. A nice little man who always smelled like cherry pipe tobacco when we visited him. He would put out dry roasted peanuts and show us the battery operated toy monkey that would dance and bang cymbals.

He was none of the things the movies had shown me that dead people were. And I felt ashamed for thinking such things while I looked at him.

My uncle suggested that we kneel and say a prayer. I silently pretended to say the Hail Mary—one of the few prayers I knew—watching my dead great-grandfather’s body remain so still, so unmoving.

That is how I knew he was dead.

It was the first dead body I had ever seen.

“Finished?” My uncle gently asked.

I nodded.

I didn’t even want to be in that church, much less be touching anything, but I thought it would be neat to tell my friends at school I had touched a real dead body. Enough of my friends watched Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons so this would be a big story on Monday.

Rising, I caught my mother’s eye. I felt my cheeks burn as she smiled at me leaving the coffin. She thought I was paying my respects. She didn’t know I simply had a childish and morbid curiosity about touching a corpse and bragging to my friends about it. I looked down in shame that she would have assumed was reverence.

I remember asking mom what we were supposed to do at the visitation. She said to be respectful and quiet, and to be sure to go up to great-grandma and tell her we were sorry for her loss. A stream of her great grandchildren coming up one after the other saying, “Sorry, grandma,” in an assembly line.

When my turn came, I had remembered to tell her that I was sorry. She had lost her husband and lifelong companion. My grandmother, at her side, had lost her father. But in saying the words, it didn’t feel like I was sorry in the way those words usually meant. I had done nothing to be sorry for.

I decided not to bring any of it up at school.

The service began, and eventually my mind went on to other things. But after the next funeral I went to, I never wanted to attend another funeral again.

It was only a few months later. A childhood friend had died in an unfortunate car accident. The hood of a car had flown off and smashed into the car he was riding in, hitting him in the forehead. They boys in the other car had been working on the engine, and neglected to properly secure the hood before taking it out for a test drive. It cost my friend his life.

I couldn’t stand the way Kevin looked in his coffin. Swelling and surgeries had changed him. The mortician’s artistry had not been enough to re-make him as he was. He was a kid who had been one of my closest friends, and now he was unrecognizable to me. As an adult, when I think of him now, I first see the stark, glum stranger’s face in the coffin before I can force myself to remember the true, actual smiling face of my young friend.

I could not bear to have my mother’s face and memory ruined for me that way. I would not let it happen. I knew what was waiting for me at her visitation. I purposely arrived late so I could not attend. It was selfish, but eternity is a long time.

I would remember the smiling face and bright eyes of my loving mother in my own way, not the mock up by a funeral director. It was my parting gift to her, and to myself. I didn’t explain my absence to anyone. The only person who knew I could have made the visitation—but didn’t—was my wife. She silently disapproved, but likely had decided that I needed to grieve in my own way, and in my own time.

Kevin was supposed to look like on TV. There, when people die, their face just relaxes and they look the same as they did a moment before. But in reality, a face may have gone through trauma from an accident, or swelling. Maybe they had to cut the person’s hair to dress the wounds. Maybe the easy smile that always graced his young face just couldn’t be made to appear, and the haunting, glum face and expressionless mouth would forever be burned into the memories of those who knew him—a cruel thing to do to his friend. Maybe after the gash in his head and days in the hospital, the swollen face with no smile was the best they could do.

But he didn’t look like my friend anymore, and I was not about trade a lifetime of my mother’s smiles for some stupid protocol.

I knew her dimples wouldn’t be there. Each of her sixty-five year old cheeks would maintain a small crease instead. The makeup would be wrong, the hair . . . I couldn’t bear to carry with me for the rest of my life a vision of some undertaker’s poor good efforts. The best that he could do—the best that anybody could ever do—would still be a far cry from the face I had known and loved my entire life. It would instead be a faded painting of a once vibrant woman full of energy and love and life.

I couldn’t take the image of her lifeless face looking . . . wrong.

I’d prefer to remember her as she was a few years ago, when I took her picture at the kitchen table at Christmas. Smiling and happy, not the face where she was losing her fight to her illnesses. We laughed and joked, trying to get a good picture out of a bad camera—a losing battle, especially with a poor photographer behind the lens.

Then, when she thought we had finished, she made a face. She stuck out her tongue and I clicked the shutter. She was shocked that I caught her, and burst out in a glorious natural smile.

I quickly snapped another shot—the best picture I have ever taken.

And the one where I always thought she looked her best. She had a round face with bright eyes and dimples. She was cheerful and energetic and alive.

I remember the last thing I ever said to my mother before she died. My dad called to tell us that she didn’t have much longer, so we drove up to say goodbye. She lay on her hospital bed, weak, her eyes closed. I leaned in and held her hand, and teased her the way I always would.

“I saw the new kitchen wallpaper, Mom.” I whispered in her ear. “It looks . . . terrible.”

Even though her eyes were closed, she smiled. She couldn’t open them. She was too near the end.

“It doesn’t go with the chairs at all,” I said quietly. “When I come back up in a couple of weeks, I’ll help you re-do the wallpaper. When you’re feeling better.”

She smiled again.

That was the last conversation we ever had.

Some people might have found it disrespectful. I disagree.

There’s a smile people get on their face at the end of a long day. When they’ve worked hard, and they come home and they sit down, and just relax, leaning their head back in their favorite chair. And they could just fall right to sleep, satisfied, with a smile, taking a rest that has been well earned.

That was the smile my mom gave me that day. The smile that comes at the end of a long struggle, that’s looking forward to a rest that has also been well earned.

An oncoming rest that God would agree was well deserved. Her eyes were closed, and there was a small smile on her lips. She was ready.

I didn’t think it would be disrespectful to talk to my mother that way. I thought it would be disrespectful to talk to her any other way.

I think when you’re at the end of your time, people owe it to you to be themselves. The masks, the show, the facades, are all done now. They owe it to you to just to be who they had always been to you their whole life.

So I stood before my mother, holding her hand, leaning over her as she lay on what would be her death bed, and I acted the way I had always acted my whole life. I wanted to be funny and sarcastic for her. At that time, I thought she’d like to see her son the way she always knew him. Not acting some other way in her time of finality.

I think it was a smile of appreciation, but it was certainly a smile of somebody who worked hard, who was tired, and who was ready to rest.

I made her smile. That was my farewell gift to her.

She was too weak to open her bright eyes, but I got to see the round face and the dimples. That smiling face, and the one in the photo years before, are the ones I would be able to carry forward with me for the rest of my days.

That was her farewell gift to me.


Original Chapter 26, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I stared at the dead body.

Then I whispered, “Can I touch him?”

I had never seen a dead person before and I was a little afraid. We stood near the casket, my Uncle Gerald and I, and I saw my great grandfather laid out in a dark suit. I asked if I could touch him.

Gerald said, “You can touch him. He was your great grandfather and he loved you.”

I was 8 years old, trying to be brave. My uncle held my hand as we stood in line, waiting our turn to pay our respects to a nice old man. The room was large and nearly full to capacity, but it was very quiet.

“He would like it if you touched him on the hand to say goodbye.”

I slowly raised my left hand and reached into the coffin. I nervously extended a finger.

The only place that seemed touchable was his hand. The rest of my great grandfather was covered in his dark gray suit, except for his face. I did not want to touch his face. Even at the age of eight I knew that would be disrespectful.

As if in slow motion, I stretched out my hand, and extended a finger to the back of his pale hand.

It was soft. And it wasn’t cold; it was room temperature, like an expensive, soft leather glove. As a kid, I had seen so many monster movies with Dracula and Frankenstein, I was nearly out of my mind with curiosity, thinking about actually touching a dead person. But that was at home. As I reached out toward the hand of my deceased great grandfather, the moment was different. None of the drama of movies happened.

He didn’t feel much like a person should. I had anticipated that his hand would not feel warm; in movies they always talk about a dead body being cold. But more than that, I had expected it to be firm. But there was no living muscle behind it anymore to make it firm. And he didn’t flinch or twitch as you would expect a sleeping person to do.

He just lay there motionless.

As I watched, his chest didn’t rise and fall like my dad’s did during an afternoon nap. He didn’t brush my finger away like you might if you thought it was a fly crawling on your hand.

He didn’t jump up and scream, like in scary movies; he didn’t groan and slowly rise up from the coffin. He didn’t chase everyone out of the room.

He didn’t move at all.

It was just the hand of a man who had moved on from this life and this body. A nice little man who always smelled like pipe tobacco when we visited him. He would put out dry roasted peanuts and show us the battery operated toy monkey that would dance and bang cymbals.

He was none of the things the movies had shown me that dead people were. And I felt ashamed for thinking such things while I looked at him.

My Uncle suggested that we kneel and say a prayer. I silently pretended to say the Hail Mary – one of the few prayers I knew – as I watched my dead great grandfather’s body remain so still, so unmoving.

That is how I knew he was dead.

It was the first dead body I had ever seen.

“Finished?” my Uncle gently asked. I nodded.

I didn’t even want to be in that church, much less be touching a dead body. But I thought it would be neat to tell my friends at school that I had touched a real dead body. Enough of my friends watched Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons so this would be a big story on Monday.

Rising, I caught my mother’s eye. I felt my cheeks burn as she smiled at me leaving the coffin. She thought I was paying my respects. She didn’t know I simply had a childish and morbid curiosity about touching a real dead body and bragging to my friends about it. I looked down in shame that she would have assumed was reverence.

I remember asking mom what we were supposed to do at the visitation. She said to be respectful and quiet, and to be sure to go up to great grandma and tell her we were sorry for her loss. A stream of her great grandchildren coming up one after the other saying, “Sorry, grandma,” in an assembly line.

When my turn came, I had remembered to tell her that I was sorry. She had lost her husband and lifelong companion. My grandmother, at her side, had lost her father. But in saying the words, it didn’t feel like I was sorry in the way those words usually meant. I had done nothing to be sorry for.

I decided not to bring any of it up at school. Then the service began, and eventually my mind went on to other things.

But after the next funeral I went to, I never wanted to attend another funeral again.

It was only a few months later. A childhood friend had died in an unfortunate car accident. The hood of a car had flown off and smashed into the car he was riding in, hitting him in the forehead. They boys in the other car had been working on the engine, and neglected to properly secure the hood before taking it out for a test drive. It cost my friend his life.

I couldn’t stand the way Chris looked in his coffin. Swelling and surgeries had changed him; the mortician’s artistry had not been enough to re-make him as he was. He was a kid who had been one of my closest friends, and now he was unrecognizable to me. As an adult, when I think of him now, I first see the stark, glum stranger’s face in the coffin before I can force myself to remember the true, actual smiling face of my young friend.

I could not bear to have my mother’s face and memory ruined for me that way. I would not let it happen. I knew what was waiting for me at her visitation, so I purposely arrived late so I could not attend. It was selfish, but eternity is a long time.

I would remember the smiling face and bright eyes of my loving mother in my own way, not the mock up by a funeral director. It was my parting gift to her, and to myself. I didn’t explain my absence to anyone. The only person who knew that I could have made the visitation but didn’t, was my wife. She silently disapproved, but likely had decided that I needed to grieve in my own way, and in my own time.

On TV, when people die, their face just relaxes and they look the same as they did a moment before. But in reality, a face may have gone through trauma from an accident, or there may have been swelling. Maybe they had to cut the persons hair to dress the wounds. Maybe the smile that he always had as a kid wouldn’t come, and the haunting glum face and expressionless mouth would forever appear to you first when you thought of him – a cruel thing to do to his friend. Maybe after the gash in his head and days in the hospital, the swollen face with no smile was the best they could do.

But it didn’t look like my friend anymore, and I was not about trade a lifetime of my mother’s smiles just for some stupid protocol.

I knew her dimples wouldn’t be there. Each of her 60+ year-old cheeks would just maintain a small crease instead. The makeup would be wrong, the hair… I couldn’t bear to carry with me for the rest of my life a vision of some undertaker’s poor good efforts. The best that he could do – the best that anybody could ever do – would still be a far cry from the face I had known and loved my entire life. It would instead be a faded painting of a once vibrant woman full of energy and love and life.

I couldn’t take the image of her lifeless face looking… wrong.

I’d prefer to remember her as she was a few years ago, when I took her picture at the kitchen table at Christmas. Smiling and happy, not the face where she was losing her fight to her illnesses. We laughed and joked, trying to get a good picture out of a bad camera – a losing battle, especially with a poor photographer behind the lens.

Then, when she thought we had finished, she made a face, she stuck out her tongue and I clicked the shutter. She was shocked that I caught her, and burst out in a glorious natural smile.

I quickly snapped another shot – the best picture I have ever taken.

And the one that I always thought she looked her best. She had a round face with bright eyes and dimples. She was cheerful and energetic and alive.

I remember the last thing I ever said to my mother before she died. My dad called to tell us that she didn’t have much longer, so we drove up to say goodbye. She lay on her hospital bed, weak, her eyes closed. I leaned in and held her hand, and teased her the way I always would.

“I saw the new kitchen wallpaper, mom,” I whispered in her ear. “It looks… terrible.”

Even though her eyes were closed, she smiled. She couldn’t open them. She was too near the end.

“It doesn’t go with the chairs at all,” I said quietly. “When I come back up in a couple of weeks, I’ll help you re-do the wallpaper. When you’re feeling better.”

She smiled again.

That was the last conversation we ever had.

Some people might have found it disrespectful. I disagree.

There’s a smile people get on their face at the end of a long day. When they’ve worked hard, and they come home and they sit down, and just relax, leaning their head back in their favorite chair… And they could just fall right to sleep, satisfied, with a smile, taking a rest that has been well earned.

That was the smile my mom gave me that day. The smile that comes at the end of a long struggle, that’s looking forward to a rest that has also been well earned.

An oncoming rest that God would agree was well deserved. Her eyes were closed, and there was a small smile on her lips. She was ready.

I didn’t think it would be disrespectful to talk to my mother that way. I thought it would be disrespectful to talk to her any other way.

I think when you’re at the end of your time, people owe it to you to be themselves. The masks, the show, the facades, are all done now. They owe it to you to just to be who they had always been to you their whole life.

So I stood before my mother, holding her hand, leaning over her as she lay on what would be her death bed, and I acted the way I had always acted my whole life. I wanted to be funny and sarcastic for her. At that time, I thought she’d like to see her son the way she always knew him. Not acting some other way in her time of finality.

I think it was a smile of appreciation, but it was certainly a smile of somebody who worked hard, who was tired, and who was ready to rest.

I made her smile. That was my farewell gift to her.

She was too weak to open her bright eyes, but I got to see the round face and the dimples. That smiling face, and the one in the photo years before, are the ones I would be able to carry forward with me for the rest of my days.

That was her farewell gift to me.


ANALYSIS

A touching, poignant piece of the puzzle that is Dougie, or a “darling” that is extranneous and needs to be cut?

You make the call.

I think this deep dive tells us stuff we wouldn’t get from the story’s main line.

Between this and the other Jimmy scenes, we seem to be slowly stringing together an old mystery…

I think the payoff will be good. So do you.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book versions, too!

 

5 thoughts on “When To Dive Deep In Your Story

  1. Oh you have to leave this in! How and why we react as we do to endings, separations and those things that go bump in the night can have deep roots. Sure, we can all try to assimilate the information ourselves, draw our own conclusions, etc. but if we aren’t “getting it” we’ll miss an important piece of the picture. THAT (to me) is the difference between “the word of a genius” and “crap”. Meaning, you bring us into the fold and allow us to experience the entire story. We still might not get it but if we do, then we can go back and read it again, shaking our heads in agreement Did any of that make sense?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leave it in. It is another piece of the puzzle and does have meaning within the context of the overall story. The description of his Grandfather in the coffin was exactly how I felt when I looked at the lady who had been mother to me for 21 years of my life. I held her hand and it was like touching the wax petals of a rose.

    Liked by 1 person

What do YOU think? Let me hear from ya.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s