Small – and Not so Small – Signs

Last week, I finished doing a substantive revision on No Right Thing. Revising, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Polishing and tweaking can take a story from good to great, and I think No Right Thing is one of the best YA novels I’ve written so far. A big shout out to Melanie Jeffs at Crwth Press for comments and suggestions that gave me the springboard I needed to dive in and make some changes.

One thing Melanie wanted me to look at was my story pacing. She felt the speed in which I showed signs of change on the part of my protagonist, Cate, wasn’t working as well as it could.  While Melanie wanted the external story to maintain its brisk, forward motion, she thought a slightly slower unspooling of Cate’s internal growth would serve the story better. So, I went back and started small, slowly stacking up Cate’s discomfort and signs of internal growth until she comes to the inevitable big, black moment when there is no turning back . . . when she is forever changed.

Starting small and not revealing everything at once is the pace you want in a novel because it creates tension. I thought I had that in place, but it sometimes takes a good editor to help an author take it to the next level.

In case I missed the message about the importance of slowly building tension, life reinforced the lesson last week in the form of a bear. Or, more specifically, the sign (this one not so small) of a bear.

Saturday morning, we took Team Sheltie for a walk along the trail behind our house. Within spitting distance of our back gate, we discovered a substantial pyramid of scat. It was bear scat, I told Mr. Petrol Head. No, he said, it was from a large dog. Not possible, I retorted. It was either an elephant or a bear and since there are no wild elephants on the island, I was betting on bear. But even as I spoke the words, I wasn’t entirely sure. I didn’t want to be sure.

Sunday morning while walking the same trail, a neighbor confirmed the left behinds were the gift of a bear, though he hadn’t seen it. They’re fairly common in this area, he reported.

I became uneasy. When we moved here a few months ago, we loved the close proximity to trails and creeks and ravines. I knew those areas were home to wildlife, but my citified mind conjured squirrels, racoons, birds, maybe a cute deer or two.

Monday morning, a second neighbor told us he’d been followed down the trail by a black bear the previous day. The only reason he knew about it was a couple walking towards him had seen it and pointed it out. He hadn’t glimpsed it himself.

My unease grew. I know the animals were here before us. I realize we share their habitat. I understand the importance of peaceful coexistence. But we live in a town. With paved roads. Streetlights. And houses. Lots and lots of houses.

Tuesday morning, yet another neighbor reported that she’d seen two black bears by the apple tree across the street. Last summer, she added, officers relocated six bears from this neighborhood.

Unease settled into my bones. Having a bear (or three) within spitting distance of my back door would take some (translation: a lot of) getting used to.

Just as I was mulling over the escalating tension and pacing of my own personal week, there was a new wrinkle in what we refer to around here as the weekly wildlife count. In fiction, we’d call it a twist in the action.

A cougar was spotted on the trail. Not out in the open because cougars, unlike bears, are stealthy creatures. A woman walking her dog in the moonlight caught sight of gleaming eyes staring at her out of the bushes. She beamed her flashlight in that general direction and, sure enough, it was a cougar. Crouched at the base of a tree. Waiting.

A cougar waiting in the bushes while she walked the trail. In. The. Moonlight. That woman, in a fictional world, would be the fearless heroine. She would not be me.

I have enough on my plate dealing with the pacing of my manuscripts. And the escalating bear sightings outside my back door.  

6 thoughts on “                Small – and Not so Small – Signs

  1. Whoee! Escalating tension on the page and in real life. A number of years ago, when we were living on our rural property in Metchosin, I thought I saw a large brown dog moving through the forest. No, said the bushman, that was a cougar. Ahh!

    And on our current property, two years ago, a black bear crashed into our deer fence, then sailed over the wire fence like a trained show jumper. Wow!

    I enjoy receiving edits back as well. Then I can go back in and do thoughtful adjustments. And pacing is certainly one of those things that is challenging. Trying not to do the famous ‘info dump’ etc.

    Happy Editing during this period of time.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jodie. I thought you might be able to relate, given where you live. Bears as show jumpers . . . now I have something else to worry about! LOL.

  2. The cougar would spook me. Growing up, we lived on a ranch, where again there were bears. However, we had a dog that would sit on the landing and give us immediate updates on where the bears were. How? Well, if there were bears in the back yard or near vicinity he would face resolutely towards the road. No bears, the back yard or pasture. If he saw the bear he felt responsible for chasing them off. And since he’d had one bad experience with this, he made sure he never saw them?. In general though, if you left bears alone and didn’t get between a mother and her cubs, they’d happily let you alone.

    1. I love your dog story, Pat! I know you’re right, that the bears will leave us alone if we leave them alone. Providing they’re not protecting cubs. But like you, I worry about the cougars. Several neighbors take umbrellas or large sticks when they walk the trails. I’m going to start doing that too.

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