My daughter and her boyfriend are Wyoming musicians, and they are traveling along the West Coast this week. Earlier in August they performed at an Oregon music festival, after which they texted a travel update. They were either going to head north to Portland or south toward northern California before heading back home.
“Which direction will you go?” I texted back.
“We’ll know when we get on the road,” came the reply.
It occurred to me that fiction writing is kind of like that, at least for me. I may have an outline and a general idea which way to go, but I’m never entirely sure what will happen until I get on the road.
About six months ago, a good friend who had just purchased a new home posted this on Facebook: “I just looked up Providence. It means ‘the protective care of God.’ This is the name of the street we will live on. Call me silly . . . but it gave me peace of mind.”
As soon as I read that line I knew it was the beginning of a story. My revision (and the first line of my short story) reads: “My new house is on a road named Providence. Call me silly, but I take comfort in that.”
At first I didn’t know which direction that story would go, but I knew my narrator was going to lose both her home and her job before ending up on Providence Road. What I did not know—until the words hit the page—is that my narrator would become one of a couple and that she would head west. I didn’t know she would marvel at the alpenglow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or that her new home on Providence Road would be in New Mexico. I didn’t even know she was going to have a dog, and I certainly didn’t know his name would be Simon.
I spent several months on that story. Every time I read it, the narrator nudged me a little bit off the path I had intended her to follow. I let her. I hoped I wasn’t giving in too easily. Eventually, the story had completely derailed, jumped ship, gone off course (pick your travel cliché), but in a good way. Because in its derailing, it finally became a journey, for both the characters and for me. Is it any good? Well, it sold. So we’ll see.
And now I can’t wait to get started on a new story, one I hope will again take me places I never intended to go.