“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” ~Edward Abbey
Sometimes clouds matter. In a landscape photo or in a story. This is one of many photos I took this week on a visit to the Smoky Mountains. For the last five years, we’ve rented a cabin and gone away for a few days with Darrell’s brothers and sister and their spouses. After Darrell’s parents both passed away, we didn’t want to lose the kind of close contact that visiting parents helps keep alive during holiday visits, etc. But we all have extended families of our own now, and we don’t make those Sunday afternoon visits we used to make to Darrell’s mother and father. So we take these few days and talk and reminisce and enjoy each other’s company every year. And laugh a lot – even at the stories we’ve heard a zillion times.
On Tuesday, we decided to hike up to Clingman’s Dome. The only problem was that it was such a beautiful day that everybody else had that same idea. Much traffic. Much people. No parking spots. No bears. That last might have been good. We did see plenty of evidence that bears had been there eating berries. They must avoid the interstate trails and paths on days like Tuesday when the foot traffic is thick.
We all enjoyed the walk to the top where the view was gorgeous even though the Frasier firs are gray ghosts now because of that European bug that has infested them. But you could see a long way and you could see the sky.
Ah, the beautiful sky. And what made the sky even more beautiful? The clouds, of course. And their shadows floating over the mountains. “ A cloudless plain blue sky is like a flowerless garden.” (Terri Guillemets)
And naturally my mind turned to writing. Just as a sky needs clouds so do stories. If my characters know nothing but blue skies and happy, happy days with nothing to work for and nothing to oppose them, then the story has no interest. I need clouds for my stories. And not just the fluffy white ones in my photo. I need those dark clouds that roll into all lives at times. Those dark clouds that rain down problems on my fictional people.
Without problems, there is no story. That’s why in my Shaker books, I always have a Shaker sister who isn’t all sweet and kind. Conflict is a major part of any story. The character has to have obstacles in the way of his or her happily ever after. In fairytales it is often a witch – an easily identified bad guy. In more modern stories, the bad guy is not always so easily identified. And sometimes the conflict comes from people the character loves. Emotional inner conflict can cause a character to careen off on the wrong road. Nature can put up roadblocks with storms or mountain ranges or vast seas. Wars can threaten my characters’ lives.
But one sure thing in every story that holds a reader’s interest, there will be clouds in that bright blue sky of their happiness. They will have to fight through those clouds or embrace those clouds or float over those clouds or maybe duck under them. Characters can’t ignore the clouds forever – or even for a short while. They need to run toward that conflict or if they are too cowardly to run, perhaps fall into it even while they’re trying to climb back up into the blue sky of their peaceful pasts.
But I’m wishing you all fluffy white clouds like the ones in the photo above. Thanks so much for reading. Here’s a cloud quote for the road. If it hasn’t turned winter on you the way it has on us here in KY, get out and enjoy.
The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? – it is the same the angels breathe. ~Mark Twain, “Roughing It”