White and Red

 By Sarah E. Seeley

White and red

The earth extrudes

In brightly-banded bed

The air is hot

My pack

It weighs

Upon my neck and head

*

The road is gone

My path

Alone

Is of my choosing

Now

And I will blaze it

As I judge

To study

Ponder

Somehow

*

To climb a slope

To brave a ledge

To dance and bathe in red

To grit my teeth

Against a piece

Of rock

Detecting

Tasting

Types of sed

*

And leave myself

To nature’s hand

To be one

With her sand

To find

One’s inner genius

To read the earth and land

*

To notice

The smell

Of Junipers

And be whole

With past

And present

All in one

Place

My secret stage of intellect

In my heart

And

My mind

*

White and red

The earth extrudes

In brightly-banded bed

The air is hot

And still

Except

For a breeze

That can be heard

Rushing

‘Round the hill

And trickling

Through

The trees

*

It catches me

By sheer surprise

I hold my breath

And close my eyes

*

The breeze

Hits me

It tickles

My face

It teases

To pluck away

My hat

And papers

And scatter them

Upon

The steeper

Crumbling face

*

It overrides

My voice

To carry

It bids me

Stop

And hold still

*

Its force

Against my body

Challenges me

To remember

I am

Strong

By Heavenly Father’s Grace

*

It buoys me

By my invisible wings

And lifts my soul

Into flight

*

I inhale sharply

And look out

On the beautiful

Expanse

Before me

I had not noticed

My breath is stolen away

*

As I sigh

I am

Empowered

And refreshed

***

About White and Red

I wrote this poem when I was working on my summer field capstone course for my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University (summer of 2009). It is inspired by my LDS religious perspective as well as the incredible experiences I had studying geology out in the field. I love geology and I love studying the earth. In my mind knowledge, discovery, and divine inspiration all go hand-in-hand.

Since I don’t post my creative works themselves on here as often as other content, and the old blog where I used to have this no longer exists, I thought it would be fun to share this poem again. I hope you enjoyed “White and Red.” (Once titled: “Finding The Inner Genius On a Geology Fieldtrip”)

Distortion In Fiction

I like to think that telling a story–whether fiction or a real life event–is much like trying to draw a two-dimensional map of the three-dimensional surface of the Earth: no matter how meticulous, how detailed, or how accurately one attempts to portray it there will always be distortion.

Jurassic Park III came out in theaters when I was about thirteen. It had a rather predictable plot; the characters didn’t have much depth, and if I remember correctly I think it continued some vague, cliche moral about “the consequences of tampering with nature” that had already been exhausted in the first movie and many others like it. What my family remembers most, however, is how my sister and I argued the whole movie about what each of the dinosaurs were called and whether they were being portrayed accurately.

My family growing up has long found amusement in predicting the plots of shows we watch and criticizing any inadequacies or inconsistencies we can find. I’ve been writing fiction (practicing writing fiction?) nearly full time the past two-and-a-half years. In that time I’ve discovered that no matter how meticulous I am about research and getting details accurate (and trying to decide whether sacrificing some of that accuracy allows me to tell the story better at times), my story will never, ever be completely perfect. Oh, I might be able to get a story past people every once in a while in a way that feels so real to them it seems almost flawless. But eventually someone will find a plot hole, an inconsistency, a contrivance, something that doesn’t add up, something that wasn’t explained enough or that had so much detail it felt superfluous and boring. Something that doesn’t quite work or that doesn’t quite make sense. This used to frustrate the heck out of me because initially I had no idea how to create a story that actually made sense let alone one so amazing my family couldn’t poke holes in it.

Now I realize those holes are what get people talking–about relationships, about their lives, about their values, about civilization as a whole, about the way things work in real life, and about the story itself. Fiction is inherently flawed. There’s no way around it. Rather than shaking my fist at the inadequacies of language and storytelling, I’ve decided those holes are really what storytelling is all about. They’re an intrinsic component of the art.

So, my thought is don’t get frustrated if your story falls short in some way. Keep writing. Find your audience. Have the courage to put your story out there, to let people praise it and criticize it as they will. J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, Suzanne Collins, and many other authors have hit emotional cords with people around the world and made a lot of money on stories that some consider deeply flawed.

Tangible and Intangible Conflicts

I’ve noticed lately that my stories come out “right” (complete/satisfying/like they’re meaningful and I’m really pleased with them) when I braid together one each of two main kinds of conflicts: a “tangible conflict” or external conflict, like a quest for treasure, looking for an antidote to the poison, building a wall before the flesh-eating spiders arrive; and an “intangible conflict,” like love, loyalties, trust issues, morality–internal and relationship conflicts. Without a tangible conflict, I have a hard time moving my plot forward and establishing setting. Without an intangible conflict, my characters are non-dynamic, lack sympathetic appeal, and I have a hard time establishing motive to drive them from scene to scene (yes, my main character is trying to find the antidote because someone important to them will die if they don’t, but why do they care? Is he/she afraid? Has he/she failed to save loved ones in the past?).

My strategy that seems to work so far has been to lead, first line, with a tangible conflict, and begin following with intangible conflicts as soon as the characters and setting have come into focus just a little bit. What this does for me is create a clear line of direction for my story to follow with the tangible conflict while I evolve and “discovery write” how my characters are reacting to the situation, what it means to them, and why (the intangible conflicts). Ultimately the two conflicts direct each other until I’ve tried three or four ways to solve the tangible conflict (remember try-fail cycles).

My advice in keeping a story tight, for what it’s worth, is to pick one main tangible conflict for your story, and one (or maybe two) main intangible conflicts for your story if writing from the perspective of a single character. That way, you’ll have everything you need to create a great plot, character, and setting suite without getting bogged down in superfluous detail, meandering, getting lost, wondering what passages are relevant and how you’re going to continue the story thread.

One clear “tangible conflict” + one relatively clear “intangible conflict” = one robust story with unique element combinations. Try it!