Novels Made on Butcher Paper


Why, my girlfriend asked, do you need butcher paper?

I looked at her with what I thought the prescribed measure of disdain.

I have big ideas, I explained.  I need to draw them out.

I showed her, and explained, the arc of my plot, how it was planned out  to masterfully ebb and flow in a rhythm within a rhythm, building toward a crescendo of ever-increasing conflict.  Just like I had read about.

I could not write my novel now, I explained, because I had not acquired butcher paper.  How could she be such an idiot?

She said nothing more about it.  I brought home a huge roll of butcher paper Thursday, enough for a lifetime of novels. Then Sunday morning she took her things and left behind a letter.  It read:

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.


When I found out she was gone, I got out my knife.  I carefully butchered the remains of my feelings for her.  I wrapped each piece carefully in the white butcher paper.  Then I drove them in reverent silence to her place, where I laid them on the doorstep.

The whole thing made quite a mess.  I cleaned the bloody footprints in my apartment.  I hosed out and returned the rental car.  I cut my hair short.  I filed a retroactive police report about my phone being stolen and I bought a new one.

I forgot to cancel the appointment with the priest, however.  I decided to go, anyway.

You’re alone, the priest asked, that won’t really work will it.

He smiled.  He always smiled, even when he was explaining to people how they were going to hell.  I liked him anyway.

It’s not going to happen, I explained.  I killed it.

I’m sorry, the priest said, do you need to confess?

I did, and so I did.

Say 3 Hail Maries, he instructed.  God has a plan for you.

Does he, I asked,  truly wondering, does he have it all plotted out?

The priest smiled again, and said more pacifying words.  They never reached my ears.

Somewhere, I thought, God may have it all planned out in an enormously complex diagram, on butcher paper the size of the universe.

I tried to imagine God plotting our lives with a pencil and an enormous roll of butcher paper.  Instead, what I saw him doing was wrapping up still beating hearts.  He puts them in the freezer, away from the warmth and light.

A Writer Needs an Ego

I stood at the edge of my desk staring at the gleaming white bones laid upon it.  I took another look at the edge of the empty box on the floor, and read words that told me it had contained one complete skeleton.

My god, I thought, maybe I should have studied Anatomy in college, instead of Art History.  Art History had taught me many things, like the origin of key nuances that color our culture.  It had not taught me how to create art, history, or people.

The papers, mostly blank, sat on the table next to the bones.  Pencil outlines of figures, towns and worlds seemed to stare up at me from the pages, expectant.  As if they wanted to know who they were, where they had been, and what was going to happen next.

I sat down in the chair and I fumbled with the hard white bones.

I can do this, I told myself, others have done this.

Does not God do this a million times a day?  He plops people upon the Earth complete.  He hides within each person a story complete and ready to unfold.

If God can do this, certainly I can do it  –

If I am a writer.

Maybe a Writer Should Not Read


I hate my favorite author.

He writes, of course, the kind of story I like best, and in a superior style.  His prose, at times, unfolds the most sublime metaphor – the kind which can blur the line between prose and poetry.

I’ve read a paragraph, alone in some corner of the world, and felt compelled to exclaim aloud the fucking brilliance of his fucking words.  And then I’ll read that paragraph a second time for the sheer joy of the tickling in my skull it produces.

I don’t hate my favorite author because he shows me what could be, but that I can never bring to a page.  Now that I think about it – maybe I do – or should – hate him for that.  Just a little.

No, the reason I hate my particular favorite author is because he does all this, and keeps me glued to every word, with an outsized use of the passive tense.

It does not bother me when I am reading it.  In fact, it is perfect.

But as soon as it is my turn to write, all I’ve got is “the sea was stormy” and “the plan is rotten” and “the sex will be gray”.  The intruder never storms the castle, the hero never forsakes good advice, and she never takes him by force – he is just taken.

We all know the trite saying that you are what you eat.  I keep waiting to wake up and find that I am a bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with an extra cheese packet added.  Maybe that saying is not quite true.  I live on that hope.

What we read, however, can affect what we write.  We pick up more of the form than the brilliance, it seems.

The logical conclusion is that you, if you’re a writer, should read mediocre authors who follow Strunk and White’s rules.



P.S.  Thou doth best avoideth Shakespeare and the Bible when thou art writing.