"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In The King's Court

Dear Readers,
Below you will find the next in my series of self-plagiarisms. Written, again, for my introductory English composition course in the spring of 2006, this is probably my favorite paper of the semester simply due to its personal significance to me. Enjoy.

I have not seen an abundance of "turning points" and epiphanies in the course of my life. For the most part, I have lived in happy monotony, working and playing, thinking and sleeping; even the occasional surprise or crisis has been picayune -- a flat tire, a surprise party, a lost paper, or a broken bone. It took God Himself to drive home the idea of a turning point to me, at the age of nine, as I sat in tears at the end of a sermon, wondering why I had not understood how amazing God was before. Even this event had a string of mundane occurrences leading up to it. So can say I was surprised when two hours spent pecking away at the keyboard in our den changed how I wrote, dramatically and permanently; however, I cannot say I was surprised that there was a lifetime of experience and instruction behind this event.

It began with my parents reading me bedtime stories when I was but a little tyke, buried under the covers in body but journeying to far away places and adventures in spirit. If I sound like the advertisement on a Pizza Hut box to read to your children, so be it; it happened.

My parents have been reading to me since I was born -- they have not stopped yet! I grew up on Lewis, Verne, and the Bernstein's; dreamed of space voyages, unicorns, and small town mysteries; and even survived Moby Dick, lounging in my dad's study and watching my sister fall asleep. I learned words I could not yet pronounce, heard of places I was not sure existed, and packed away enough stories and characters in my head to last me a lifetime. I learned to take words listened to and turn them into ideas of people and places.

From ideas came images of the mind produced by one of my greatest pleasures: "pretending." I cannot count the times I have been surprised in my yard by a neighbor or family member, caught in the act of reliving stories I had heard, or crafting new ones. I wonder exactly what they thought I was doing, running around, waving my arms in the air, humming and talking to myself. Pretending was my method of writing stories from the time I could walk until the fall of 2003. I needed neither paper nor pen, grammar nor form. I lived the stories in real time, played all the parts, and lost myself in the adventure.

The motivation to write my first full-length story came from a writing course my parents signed me up for. Learn to Write the Novel Way was its name, and that was exactly what I did. It was nothing new for me to think up a story, but the knowledge that I would spend an entire year writing it down for all to see added nervous anticipation to my efforts. I wrote up the initial plot on half a page, entitled "A Novel Idea." It was not, actually. The story took place in seventeenth century England and the Caribbean. An aged admiral, decorated for his negotiation skills, is dispatched in command of a refitted merchant vessel to neutralize a pirate group acting under the British flag. I plotted out fourteen chapters, originated characters, and then prepared myself for the great moment -- the moment when I would actually begin to write the story.

I set apart a morning in which to write the first five pages. It was, thankfully for me, a sunny day. I think best in brilliant, unadulterated sunshine. Chapter outline in hand, I sat at the computer desk downstairs, fired up Word, and, a little giddy, began.

In some ways, it was like scuffing around on the front drive, pretending. But now I could go back after each sentence and live that moment of the story again. The story pulled me in, and the knowledge that it would receive a grade gave me caution. I described the scene carefully and thoroughly. I introduced Admiral Hambly to my imaginary reader with all dignity, yet with all the visual reality I could muster.

What I described was a scene symbolic of the turning point those two hours were to me. The admiral "strode" (I felt very proud of myself for using that word) down a corridor with his dignified fellows, soft red carpet under his feet, just as I had made the journey through stately pages and dreams in the company of my family. Soldiers at the end of the hall saluted the dignitaries and swung open the doors, revealing, to Admiral Hambly, the court of King Charles II, to me, a similar great chamber, full of great yet flawed people communicating desperately important truths. Hambly and I were there to join them, there to try our tongue and pen at their own game, and see if we could make a difference.

Ironically, what Hambly had to say was not so very important. And, by the end of the book, he almost despairs, seeing how useless his life has been. Regardless of this warning sign, I sat, at the end of my first two hours and five pages, my fingers aching and my hands quivering from excitement, knowing that my life had changed for good. I had begun to learn in those first two hours the beauty of description, the centrality of character, and the necessity of plot in a "good" story. Familiarity caused me to lose some of my excitement and caution in future chapters and books. I must fight for them now every time I write. I understand more and more that, if I am going to write, I had better have something important to say, and say it well. There are already too many cheap ideas and cheap deliveries.

But I learned something in those two hours that I hope will never leave me. I knew already how to translate words spoken into thoughts and ideas. I had discovered and refined already how to take those thoughts and ideas and make them sounds and images in my mind. Finally, that morning, I learned how to capture sounds and images in words, completing the cycle. I was equipped to begin making what had, in many ways, made me.

If I hold to the Truth I first learned in the second row at church, in my first epiphany, and work at conveying it, I can do lasting good with what I learned in The King's Court.


  1. Your account reminds me so much of my own first "real" writing experience. I wrote as a little kid (stories about horses and such). Then I started my first novel a few years back and despire its innate flaws that I look back on now and flich at, it was a great experience. You should be proud of yourself, for you have a great way with language. Good luck with further writing projects.

  2. Wow... valuable thing to read while writing your first novel!

  3. I agree with Claire, and I can't wait to read your novel!

    My writing these past few months has suffered from a lack of inspiration/motivation. I'm just not sure where to go next. I have gotten some good ideas for other stories I'd like to write, though.


A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.