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On Story Structure: Buried Treasure

I’ve talked before about arguments I lost to my dad (the expert debater) back in high school. I can vividly remember the last of those.

Well…not the last argument I lost to my dad (which is, God willing, still many, many years in the future), but the last argument I lost in high school. It concerned my graduation.

Thanks to Math — dang you Math! — I didn’t have any special honors or speeches to give at my graduation. And I didn’t have a lot emotionally invested in my tenure at Wichita High School Northwest. To me, it was just a stepping stone to greater things.

Given that, I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to commit to the expense, the hassle, and the time to spend a Friday night in a crowded hall waiting for people to stop talking. As far as I could tell, there was no reason for me to go to my graduation.

Dad put his foot down, though. He said high school graduation is the closest thing we have to a rite of passage — to a single moment in time we can look back on and say, “Before this I was a child. Now I am grown.”

I was talking at a recent writer’s group with a friend who bemoaned that very aspect of our society. In fact, he said he thought it was important for a culture to have a rite of passage with the very real fear of death in it. Instead of repeating my dad’s argument, I made one of my own.

“You want a rite of passage?” I said. “One that will scare the life out of you? We’ve got one. It’s closing on your first house. Sitting in that room, staring at that mountain of legal documents, and tying decades of your life to a binding contract…. Nothing else will ever make you see, quite like that, that you’re an adult now.”

That was my experience, anyway. At 22, eleven months into my frustrating years in Tulsa, we moved from a cramped duplex just north of Cherry Street into a cute little starter home less than a mile from my work. Before we even started shopping, though, I told Trish, “If we do this, we’re pretty much committing to staying here for at least five years.”

We did, and when the time came I personally reviewed every item on the (extensive) inspection report. I sat in our closing and read every word of every page they wanted me to sign. I took the whole process quite seriously.

And once it was all finished, once the house was ours, I made it my own. We invited some of those amazing friends I mentioned before for a housewarming. We made it into a dedication.

The day of our party, I went to the bank and picked up four silver dollars. Then I stopped at the wine store and picked up some refreshments for our guests, plus a little extra. I’m pretty sure I bought our first nice set of wineglasses for that night, too.

It rained. I hadn’t anticipated that, but we didn’t let it stop us. An hour into our party, I got everyone’s attention and said, “It’s time,” and we all headed out into the drizzle. At my instruction they brought their glasses with them. I brought a new bottle of wine.

We went out to the front curb, three paces southwest of the southwest corner of the house, where I’d dug a hole. I filled all the glasses, dropped a coin into the hole, and read a short prayer of dedication I’d written. We all said amen, took a sip of wine, and poured the rest out in an offering.

I was worried it would feel stupid — hokey — but I went ahead with it anyway. With the first coin, though, I could feel the power, the gravity of the ritual. We buried four coins that night, at the four corners of the house, committing our prayers in wine and rain and silver and mud.

It was a thing of my own making, but it stands sharp and clear in my memory. We worked magic that night, and loved that house as long as we lived in it.

Understanding Plot Points

I often pretend that I think the connection between one of these stories and a writing lesson seems mysterious. In this one, though, you can see it easily enough — I live like a storyteller.

This week I want to talk about plot points in story structure. Working out your story structure can feel a lot like sitting through a graduation ceremony or signing all those dense pages at a closing, but if you do it right, if you engage as a storyteller, crafting good plot points can create a lifelong memory you can share with your readers. It’s magic.

One Response to “On Story Structure: Buried Treasure”

  1. Shannon says:

    Do you think if you dug up the coins the house would sell?