Not even a month ago, this is how the desert looked: barren, brown, but still quite beautiful in its mocha-colored hues.
And this is how the desert looks now, aided by a few short weeks of desert monsoon rains.
Just weeks ago, you may recall how stressed I was about the stress of the desert vegetation. It had probably been a good six months since we’d had measurable rain. The prickly pears were wrinkly and hardened like leather, every hill around our house was painted in brown brushstrokes, and even the hardy saguaros were starting to show their limits with rippled trunks and squishy skin.
After one rain, though, things started to grow. And today – a few more storms under our belts – this is what the desert looks like:
For Writers: When I think of the Sonoran Desert’s monsoonal transformation, I think in layers. The first week after rain is the first layer: a few sprouts here. The second week, a few more sprouts. The third week, a few more. Then suddenly the green growth that seemed nothing more than pesky ugly duckling weeds transforms into a variety of flowers. Another layer!
And with each week comes another set of greens I don’t recognize. Another layer! And with that, more flowers, more color. More layers!
Our novels are the same as the metamorphosing desert. We start out with the “tan” base of our plot. Then we add our flora – our layers – characterization, subplots, setting, emotional arcs and collisions.
I think the most profound writing lesson that nature offers, however, is a reminder about the value of surprise. I love being surprised by the new things that pop up week after week, layer after layer. Sometimes the desert provides subtle hints as to what will emerge from the cracked earth. Other times, Mother Nature doesn’t provide a clue. I like my fiction the same way.
How do you feel about “surprises” in the works you read and write? Can an author overdo the surprises? Conversely, can he spell things out in too predictable a manner? What about red herrings? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em? And, finally, does “barren-to-bountifull” trigger any other reactions for you?