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.

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