I volunteered at an Autism Awareness 5K this morning. I probably could’ve run it, but – since the tan lines from last summer’s ankle brace still haven’t faded –I’m babying my ankle this year.
St.Matt and my SIL were running, they had maps of the course in their race bag, along with sneaker chips, safety pins, number and Powerbars.
I had a bright yellow VOLUNTEER shirt that clashed with the khaki capris I’d tugged on at 6:45.
“I’ve got just the spot in mind for you,” said one of the directors, a very nice man I’d never met before.
“Not at the water station?” That’s where I’d been told I’d be situated during volunteer check-in.
“Nope, I need you somewhere else.” He smiled at me in a confident way that made me wonder if rumors of my cheering-prowess had made their way all the way from Boston to Buckingham, PA. Or perhaps he was just wowed by my post-massive-coffee confidence and energy.
Either way, I ended up mid-hill at an intersection were runners would pass me three times. As runners headed down the hill towards me, I pointed them down a side street. They would run a loop and come back towards me and I would point them behind me, down to the bottom of the hill, where they would run around a cone. Finally they’d run up the whole hill and disappear around the corner they’d come from. This was not a little hill.
For 30 minutes before the race I was alone on it. The 24 oz coffee I’d so quickly finished suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea. I had to go and I was bored. I practiced my hand signals – 1st the cul de sac on the left, then down behind me, then up the hill – this was interesting for about 24 seconds.
I tweeted a bit, played some music on my phone, and bopped around in the middle of the street to entertain myself – looking up when I heard giggles and finding two kiddos watching me from a neighboring yard. Apparently I was entertaining them too.
About 20 minutes prior to the race, a runner on a warm-up loop approached me: “So when I reach the first time, how far into the race am I? How far is that loop? When I pass you coming up the hill, how far to the finish?”
I realized I didn’t know. I’d gotten in the truck with the director, been deposited in the middle of the course and I knew nothing but my own immediate intersection.
It’s all a matter of perspective and until I flagged down a bike cop doing a pre-race lap of the route, I didn’t have any. The cop rattled off the stats quickly: “They’re about two miles in when they reach you. It’s about point-4 miles down that loop,” he pointed left. “Then point-4 for them to come back out, and about two-tenths to the bottom of the hill, from there it’s about a half mile back up the hill and to the finish line.”
I nodded and absorbed his facts: 2 miles, 4/10ths, 2/10ths, one-half. “Thanks. And is the rest of the course flat?”
He grinned as he positioned his feet back on his pedals, “Nope, this course was designed by someone with a sense of humor. But you’re smack dab in the middle of the biggest hill.”
While I didn’t move throughout the race course — I pranced around my intersection and cheered, pointed, encouraged, clapped, and pointed some more — I needed the officer’s knowledge to give me perspective. It helped me to know where the runners had been, where I was sending them, and where they were going after they passed by. I was asked for these facts by more than a few ready-to-be-done runners, especially when I pointed them up the hill.
Writing’s like this too. It’s not enough to concentrate on a single scene. No matter how critical a plot juncture, the writer needs perspective. I can’t – for a moment, paragraph or page – forget where the characters are coming from, or where the plot is headed. Each scene and chapter should be crafted with a purpose: to propel the characters towards the end. When I lose sight of this – lose my perspective – I may craft scenes that are fun or witty or tell interesting background, but it’d be like asking the runners to do the hokey pokey around the traffic cone at the bottom of the hill. It interrupts the stride and slows down the pacing. More than that, it’s distracting.
I don’t always draft in order – sometimes I drop myself off at a plot intersection where things are happening from many different angles – but as long as I keep my attention focused on where characters and plot lines have been and where they’re headed to, I can keep cheering, pointing, encouraging clapping, and pointing some more.
Luckily, while writing I don’t need to wear day-glo yellow, I can usually dance without inspiring giggles, and I have bathroom access.