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You wouldn’t think it to look at them side-by-side, but a schematic and a short story are in some ways very much alike.

A schematic, which is the blueprint for electronic equipment, consists of lines and squiggles on a page, each little mark standing for something that an educated viewer can turn into something marvelous. Hmmm, let’s see. A short story consists of lines and squiggles on a page, each little mark standing for something that an educated viewer can turn into something marvelous.

The main thing is, it all comes down to the eye of the reader.

Hubby has boxes and boxes of schematics pertaining to old radios, phonographs, even those ancient TV sets that used glass tubes and a chassis that could be pulled out of the back. He can read the wavy lines on a page and tell you what the piece of equipment is and how to fix it if it doesn’t work. He can see in his mind where to attach a probe so that he gets more information to dispute or corroborate what he’s looking at on the flat sheet of paper. All I see when I look at the same thing is, yep, lines and squiggles.

But isn’t that, in essence, what you are doing right now? These lines and squiggles have no intrinsic value, no value at all except what you make of them in your own mind. This particular bunch of stuff is not all that conducive to creative thinking on the part of my reader. But the short story! The novel! The poem!

Unlike video media, the written word allows your brain to create what you want from a given set of printed marks. Take a look at this paragraph:

McLelland slid on a pair of white boxers and took a surreptitious peek at the woman sleeping heavily on the edge of the bed.  He wouldn’t know for a few minutes yet whether the evening was going to end up profitable, but it had certainly been enjoyable.  He couldn’t remember when he had made such an easy conquest, with only a couple of double martinis and a fair amount of his own personal charm invested.

It’s pretty simple, yes? You see a man, a woman, a bed. But you don’t necessarily see what I intended when I wrote it.  (Of course it would help if you saw the rest of the story, but not many people have seen all of that!) Still, you can’t help forming a picture of the man. Is yours tall or short? Dark or fair? Cunning or desperate? Do you find a tiny bit of guilty pleasure in liking him, or do you curl your lip in disgust? I can only guide you; the ultimate story is yours alone.

The squiggles are all around you. Make something marvelous.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.

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