I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, November 8, 2010

Science, stick figures, scenes and, well, life

This is how much I liked (i.e. hated) science classes in school: I would rather read Thackeray's 912-page Vanity Fair cover to cover five times over than take another biology course. (Sorry, Thack, not a fan.) I would rather spend 48 hours straight on a treadmill – blindfolded – than endure a chemistry class. Which is saying a lot 'cause I trip enough on treadmills with my eyes open. I would rather...

Well, enough with the dramatics. You've got the point, right? Melissa + science = mind-numbing boredom if not outright disaster. (Please don't ask me about the Bunsen burner incident of 1999.)

So, perhaps you can imagine my discomfort when, during a My Book Therapy retreat earlier this year, author Susan May Warren told us to draw a stick figure in our notebooks. Melissa's thought at the time: Uh, anatomy? Quick, identify nearest exit! 
Thankfully, our stick figures basically stopped at a head and spine. I think some people drew arms and legs, but I was too busy thinking up an excuse should discussion veer into the difference between muscles and ligaments. Susie then told us to write the words “Story Question” by the spine. And she talked to us about how everything in our book – every scene, the conflicts (or in MBT language, the D's), our characters' choices when they're faced with a “y in the road,” all of it must connect to the spine.

In other words, every scene in our story needs to contribute to the overall story question. The POV character's goal, motivation and conflict within the individual scene should connect to the main story.

Every scene must matter. 

In the following months, I took that lesson to heart. And frankly, it meant hacking away at a lot of fluff – cute little scenes I really enjoyed but ones that didn't contribute to the story as a whole. Felt like swallowing thumb tacks at times – no writer likes to can her creation. But in the end, putting every scene through a workout resulted in a tighter, stronger story.

Funny thing is, while I may have completed revisions on my manuscript, this whole “every scene matters” thing isn't letting go of me. It's spilling over into my everyday life. I'm finding myself thinking about the “story question” of my life. What's the purpose of my life's “story?” And just like scenes in a book, am I allowing each individual day to contribute to my overall purpose? Do I know what my motivations are? My goals? And do I respond to conflicts in ways which push me closer to the person I'm meant to be?

I don't have it down to a science – that word again, eek! – probably never will. But knowing every day contributes to our bigger life stories, well, it makes a difference, doesn't it? Makes what might have seemed hum-drum significant. Sorta turns each day into an experiment. 

Each day – and the way I choose to live it – matters. So the only question is, how am I going to live today? 

Melissa Tagg

Taking time to be thankful:
I’m thankful that tonight I get to travel down to Kansas City to visit my adorable nephew Ollie. He has been in the hospital since he was born this summer with two heart defects. But he may actually get to go home in a few weeks! He needs to have another heart surgery - probably next spring. I can't wait to hold him tonight!

The MBT Ponderers have put together a Thankful Basket. If you’d like to have a chance to win our basket of goodies, leave a comment during the month of November. Share a thought about a blog post or tell us what you’re thankful for!


  1. Your post has me pondering so many things, M-Tagg.
    My writing--I'm revising my WIP before handing it back to my agent. Don't want to be padding my skeleton with a lot of unneeded fat, i.e. word count.
    My NaNoWriMo WIP--even if I know it's okay to write a lousy first draft, I can still be thinking if the scene I'm writing is necessary or not.
    My life--Hhhmm. "What's the purpose of my life's story." Great question. I could throw all the "right" answers at you--but how am I living, day in and day out?

    Today, I'm thankful for friends, especially writing friends (like you), who have filled my life with such joy.

  2. M-Tagg, you have masterfully woven two majorly important topics together here. Beautifully done. Thank you. I don't think it could be said any better. I'm sure your life and writing will be masterpieces. And so glad about Ollie's continued improvement.

  3. And I'm thankful for you, too, Beth - and all the wonderful writers I've gotten to know in the past year!

    I guess a WIP is a little bit like a body - a little fat is necessary, but too much and it can bog the story down. And I hear you on questioning scenes as you write for NaNo...I've written a couple already that I'm doubting will ever make the final cut...on the one hand, it feels like wasted time. On the other, perhaps it's helping me get to know my characters...

  4. Thanks, Dee! I'm glad about Ollie, too - his life truly is a miracle. And he's such a cutie-petutie. I'm excited that he'll probably be going home soon - all except for one, tiny, selfish thing: He'll be going home to Wichita, which seems so much farther away from Des Moines than Kansas City. But I'm so happy for my sister and brother-in-law that they'll finally have their baby home.

  5. I missed that segment of the retreat because I was helping Rachel with something. Thanks for posting about this, MTagg. It's a great refresher.

    Just love Ollie's smile! What a cute little monkey. I'm sure Amy and Chip are looking forward to no more hospitals for a while. Still praying.

  6. I read your post and thought, Good writing reminder.
    Then I reached the part where you applied this lesson to life, and...ouch!
    Thank you for reminding me to put as much effort and care into my life as I do into my writing! :-)

  7. Melissa, as has already been mentioned, this is a thought provoking, creative post. Thank you for taking me beyond my focus in writing to my focus in living. Since the SC retreat, I actually have been contemplating (briefly) my life's story question. Loved the analogy of the spine and all the other anatomical (oops, science word) attachments. :) Thanks for challenging me to really consider God's purpose for me here. :)

  8. Thanks for the continued prayers, LJ. Ollie's still got a long journey ahead of him. One of the big, big prayers is that he stays healthy throughout the cold/flu season and keeps growing so he can be strong for his next surgery. Ahh, only 5 hours until I get to see him! :) (Yeah, totally been counting down the hours all day!)

  9. Ava, the last sentence of your comment sooo jumped out at me: "put as much effort and care into my life as I do into my writing..." It's so true...I buy books, go to retreats, put so much time and effort into trying to become a better reader. Do I put as much care into living life well?

  10. Oh no, Jeane, you used a science word...no worries. I kept a brave face and read through to the end of your comment anyway. Haha! Thanks for reading and I'm so glad the SC retreat has you "pondering." :)

  11. Thanks for the reminder of what Susie taught us, but moreso the fact that our lives should make a difference. Rather than getting caught up in ourselves, we need to keep God's bigger picture in mind.

    Oh Ollie, is sooo cute. I'd love to just pinch those chubby cheeks of his! LOL

  12. MTAGG, I remember that. I was so excited that I was asked to draw something I could handle... stick men! Uhh... well, so I'm not really good at stick men either...

  13. Truly great post. And thanks for the reminder that we need to be remembering God's purpose for our lives. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day problems and cares of this world that we forget. What a blessing Ollie has already been to everyone who's "met" him through your posts. What joy his smile brings!

  14. Hey Jennie - I got to do just that tonight! Pinch Ollie's cute little cheeks, I mean. And I got to cuddle him...play with him...drink in his smiles. He's just so wonderful and such a miracle!

  15. So true, Pat, about getting caught up in day-to-day problems...God has a purpose. And he's constantly at work!

  16. Oh, great post, Melissa! But...does this mean I need to cut out Pacman? lol. Thanks for the writing AND life reminder.