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When’s the last time you rode a roller coaster? For me, it was four summers ago. The kids and I spent the day at Six Flags pushing the limits of gravity and our ability not to vomit. They came home hyper and happy, ready for another visit. I came home queasy and sad that my stomach no longer belonged to a twelve-year-old. The cool thing...
Critique Groups: Part Three Some Help When Using WORD **If you missed the beginning of these posts, you can find them here: Part One Part Two Congrats! You’re a critique group star. This last post just shares some formatting help if you’re using WORD, including how to use Track Changes. I love track changes when I have to edit over...
Switch is a nontraditional Easter story and not my typical blog post.
I hope you’ll read to the end to discover the true message behind the fiction.
A Nontraditional Easter Story
Caroline burrowed deeper into the corner of the last seat on the bus. “Invisible,” she whispered to herself. “Be invisible.”
The bus was silent, except for the hum of the engine that had been left running. No newspapers rustled. No cells rang. No passengers moved up and down the aisle. Up front, the driver lay slumped over the steering wheel, his right hand still wrapped around the door lever.
The absence of the normal buzz of activity left an empty vacuum that reached into Caroline’s lungs. Every breath she took seemed to get lost somewhere inside her body.
Why hadn’t she driven to work today? Because she didn’t want to pay ten dollars to park for a shift that only paid a hundred? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
“Who will switch?” The man standing in the front of the bus shouted again. Louder this time. More demanding.
Caroline dug her nails into the navy fabric of her scrub pants and refused to make eye contact. A psycho with a gun should be dirty, scruffy, seedy. Not clean-shaven, clean-cut, and dressed in a pressed navy suit.
Let’s play switch—that had been his line when he stepped on the bus, knocked out the driver with the end of a pistol, and locked the doors. It happened so fast no one had time to exhale, let alone react.
Suit Man waited behind a small, unkempt, bearded man that he’d just forced to his knees. Pointing the barrel of the gun down at the top of the trembling man’s head, Suit Man squeezed the man’s shoulder through a dirty, torn shirt and asked the question again.
“There’s nobody willing to switch places with this guy?” Suit Man asked. “If one person volunteers, only one person dies.”
No one moved. Not the tatted guy two seats up, the bald bouncer in the middle, the silver-haired lady holding her groceries, or any of the other passengers, who like Caroline, were trying desperately to make themselves shrink smaller in their seats.
Shamefully, Caroline stayed silent.
Suit Man hit the guy in the head with the metal barrel of the gun, kicked him away, and moved two seats down the aisle. “You then.” He grabbed a red-haired kid wearing a college jersey by the strap of his backpack. Pulling him into the aisle, he put the gun to his temple. “Anyone willing to switch for him?”
No takers. No one willing to give the kid a chance to get through finals, marry his girl, have a white-picket life.
Guilt squirmed inside Caroline’s heart.
Suit Man shoved the kid back into his seat and continued his walk of terror, row by row, pointing the barrel of his pistol at an elderly man, a girl with a nose ring, a guy with a bike helmet, a woman with a beat-up briefcase.
The more people he passed, the more undone he became. Sweat dotted his forehead, a flush took over his face, and his jaw locked tight. “What’s wrong with you people? Do the math. One or all,” he screamed. “It’s not a hard choice.” Spit flew out of his mouth.
Near the back of the bus, two seats from Caroline, he paused near a lady within weeks of giving birth. A sick smile twisted his face. “You’re perfect.” He wrapped his fingers in her pixie-cropped hair and pulled her off her seat.
Caroline watched the pregnant girl get pushed to the floor, cringing when she almost sprawled face-first in the aisle.
Suit Man grabbed the girl by the neck. The girl’s chest heaved. Silent tears washed her make-up down her face. She bent over as far as she could and sheltered her stomach.
Burning liquid came up Caroline’s throat. Thoughts of her own kids at home made it hard to swallow back. Were her girls in the kitchen wondering why the counter wasn’t decked out for Bake Potato Night?
Loosening his tie with his gun hand, Suit Man undid his top button and stretched out his collar. The flush from his face covered his neck. “If no one takes her place, you understand, you all die.”
Nothing but silence.
Almost as if Suit Man had a revelation, he glanced to the back of the bus, at Caroline first and then at the father and toddler sitting across from her. He dropped the pregnant girl and stalked forward.
He stopped directly in front of Caroline, removed his jacket, jerked off his tie, and threw them on her seat. His eyes flashed dark and wild. Sweat soaked the front of his shirt.
She could smell the crazy on him. Her heart sunk slowly to her feet, stealing her power to move.
The little boy across the aisle whimpered and clung to his dad.
“Not you,” Suit Man told Caroline, then spun to his left and locked on the little boy. “An innocent, maybe?” He glanced around the bus. “One innocent life to save all the others,” he said louder.
“No.” The dad pushed the boy behind him—a human barrier between death and life. “I’ll switch. Take me. Let my son live.”
“You’ll switch?” Suit Man aimed his gun at the dad. “You’ll die so everyone else can live?”
“I’ll die so my son can live. I just want to say goodbye.” The dad hugged the boy tight, whispered in his ear, and turned him to face the window. Then he stepped out into the aisle, and knelt on the floor in front of Suit Man.
His eyes found Caroline’s. Blue and bright, they held unshed tears.
She should take his place. Let him go home with his son. But how could she do that to her girls? I’m sorry, she mouthed, then looked away.
“I’d anything for him.” The dad tipped his head toward the boy. Then he closed his eyes and bowed his head.
Suit Man changed his grip on the handle and pressed the gun to the dad’s head. “That’s all I wanted, you know. One person to switch.” His harsh voice wavered. “One person to volunteer. To care for someone else more than he cared for himself.” Tears rolled down his face. His sobs echoed through the silent bus.
Then he yanked the gun up, aimed to the side of Caroline’s head, and emptied the clip out the back window.
She jumped in her seat and clapped shaky hands over her throbbing, buzzing ears.
Glass shattered in front of her and behind her. The bus flooded with men strapped into vests and helmets. Without a struggle, Suit Man fell to the floor, hands behind his back. His wrists were cuffed and he was lifted and hauled off the bus.
If you were on that bus, would you have offered your life to save everyone else?
In my story, no one wanted to switch. And in the end, it was a father who fell to his knees to save his son. It took a father’s love to make that kind of sacrifice—the same love our Father has for us.
“I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
I invented Switch for shock value. Sometimes I need to be shocked. I need to look deeper into the Bible stories I’ve been reading since I was a child and see them in a fresh way.
While Switch is fiction, there’s another story out there that’s fact. A story of sacrifice and salvation, where Jesus stood up for us—for the real homeless man, college kid, little boy, and even Suit Man—and offered to take our place.
During seasons of struggle, I sometimes fall into believing I deserve better than what I have. During seasons of blessing, I often believe I’m living out what I deserve.
The truth is no matter how good I try to be, I’ll never be good enough, and the only thing I deserve is death.
“For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But death is not what God gave me. He gave me mercy and grace, in the form of Jesus. Whether we feel unworthy, unable, or even sometimes unwilling, the sacrifice has already been made.
This Easter weekend, look at Jesus in a new light. See His sacrifice with fresh eyes. And be grateful for the life He gave you.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Critique.
**If you missed Part One, you can find it HERE.
I realize my Monday posts are titled, “Monday Writing Minute.” However, I feel so strongly about the power of critique groups that I’m expanding the next few posts.
Once you’ve found the right critique group, the next step is learning how to be a good editing partner. Proper format goes a long way to a lasting group relationship. You want to send out the cleanest, easiest to read version of your writing brilliance so the other members of the group won’t dread your weekly submission but will be anxious to read more.
- No more than five double-spaced pages a meeting.
- Use Times New Roman or Calibri 12 point font. No weird font or all italics.
- Run a spell check with grammar on your work.
- Read your masterpiece out loud before you submit. The ear catches what the eye misses.
You’ve found your writing family, agreed on meeting guidelines, and have become a formatting ninja. What’s next? Learning how to critique. If you’re new at editing, you may struggle to pick out where changes need to be made.
Here are some things to look for, in your own work and someone else’s:
- Awkward phrases.
- Passive verbs. Especially “to be” verbs. (was, is, am, are)
- Ly Adverbs
- ING: Ing opener when used as a verb (Sliding backward, she tripped.) Using ing as a noun is okay (Sliding backward was hard)
- Too many adjectives
- Repeated words. Don’t use the same word close together, unless it’s on purpose for emotional power.
- Vague words: it, that, the, this. Be specific when you can.
- Extra words: the, that, had (if the sentence reads clearly without them, cross them out)
- Redundant words or phrases: Two or more descriptions of the same thing or words that mean the same thing.
- Show/don’t tell: If the author is telling rather than showing an emotion. He was mad is telling. He threw the chair across the room is showing mad.
- Missing clarity. Write questions in the margins if you have them so the author knows you need more info or further clarification.
- Weak verb use. Especially the “to be” verbs.
- Filter words: Take out words like watched, saw, felt, looked, studied, seemed
- Dialogue: Has to move the story forward, give new information, or reveal your character.
- Paragraph opening repetition: Do the paragraphs all begin the same way?
- Repetition of sentence structure: Vary short with medium and long. Use different openers.
- Long sentences: Don’t cram too much information into one sentence.
- Head hopping: Are you staying behind the same set of eyes for the entire scene?
- Action/Reaction: An action must come before a reaction and every action needs a reaction.
- Emotion: Intense visceral reaction. Does the character react appropriately?
- Information dump: Don’t dump too much information at once. Don’t dump a backstory, especially at the beginning. Sprinkle the story throughout the book.
- Cadence: Read out loud. Does it sound good? Does it flow?
- Action: Does the action flow in a way that makes sense? Are the characters standing in one place one minute and another the next without you knowing how they got there?
- Character reactions make sense: Stay in character.
The longer you edit, the stronger you’ll become, both as a writer and a critique partner.
Interested in attending a writer’s conference this year in Texas?
I’m teaching at the West Texas Writers’ Academy in June. Details HERE.Read More