“Rubbers” are “Erasers”

I made up my mind to leave Ireland sometime in my second month of living with a hole in the roof of my attic bedroom in a shared house.


I’m not from Ireland, so leaving was not some immigrant story. The hole in the roof was not a mater of squalor or deprivation. I feel the need to mention this because, in my experience, people only hear the things that confirm what they already picture when think of a place. I started saying “overseas” when asked where I live, because idiots are always saying “top of the morning to ya.” And, it turns out, Ireland is Jerusalem for sloppy drunk girls who like accents and the dad-bod.


My time in Ireland wasn’t drunk and green. The girl I was with there wasn’t typical of Ireland or anywhere.


Kit was someone who could see the fun and beauty in a soggy roof hole. She would wear her coat, with the hood up, on trips to the bathroom and always make this big thing of taking it off again, twirling the waist belt like a striptease.


One time she bought me a plant and put it under the leak saying, “That’s the only way it’ll get watered, knowing you.”

Which is not to say the hole in the ceiling was a metaphor or a signifier for a shambolic relationship. It couldn’t have been because, unlike most of our issues, I was the one to see it first.




A dark stain in the plaster had been growing pretty much since I arrived. The night it started dripping onto my desk, I moved the desk, put out my waste bin to catch the drip, and went back to bed. A few nights later, a deluge broke through where the plaster had been damming rainwater between the ceiling and roof beams and brought down  a soggy tongue of yellow insulation. From then on, there was draft in my room and the rain came in directly.


To repair it would have been expensive and not really my responsibility, considering my status as attic-dweller separated me by at least a couple degrees from the leaseholder and the landlord.


My housemates greeted the hole with apathy and amusement.


Kit and I found it bonding to come sopping and start each fuck with the chaste desire to get warm.


But, of course, this got old. Nobody likes wearing a winter coat that won’t dry or sleeping in a room that smells wet. I could have moved, but something told me I wasn’t going to get a rarer memory of Ireland than this. So when I got tired of the hole, time had come to head West.


Back in New England, in the spring, I would text Kit pictures of things they don’t have in Ireland, like whitetail deer and wild turkeys in the backyard, and complain to her about the bugs that I would trade for the rain and the damp any day. She would reply with grey skies and sneaky pictures of the billowing short-sleeve button-down “granddad shirts” Irish men over 40 wear on sunny days.


She texts me “Goodnight” around dinnertime, and I say “Good Morning” when she’s having lunch.


Montréal, 2017 

Story Structure in ‘Sully’ – Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Sully is the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) who crash-landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson river, in 2009, saving everyone onboard.

It’s an incredible story, but how do you make a  ninety minute feature out of a flight that lasted a mere 200 seconds?

Sully solves this problem with a technique Hitchcock called “meanwhile back at the ranch.” It works like this: Start with one story and follow it to a peak moment, then start something else and go until that thread peaks, then go back to the first story or introduce a third element. Sully leaves the plane as it’s going down to give us the investigation that followed the crash (we all know how it ends after all.) The investigation storyline is broken up by scenes from Sully’s early days as a pilot in training. By the time we get to the entire crash-landing scene (it’s awesome) we care about more than just seeing the big splash that the trailer promised.

When you start looking for this technique, you’re going to see it everywhere. Melville might not be the first place you look, but “meanwhile back at the ranch” is how he gets you to read the chapters in Moby Dick about a sperm whale’s stomach contents.

My favorite example of this in non-fiction is Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm. You learn so much about New England fisheries and the bar scene in Gloucester, Massachusetts as you turn pages to find out what happened to the Fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail

Done well, this technique adds richness and density to a short story and makes a long one more digestible.

For more on scene transitions and editing have a look at Every Frame a Painting.

Story vs. Plot

E.M Forester’s Aspects of the Novel (put it on your list, it’s like a pocket MFA) outlines the difference between story and plot:

Story can only have one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story.’

‘A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality – ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story.’ But ‘’the king died and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.


D-Day is a story. Saving Private Ryan is a plot (right there in the title.)

Ludacris’ lyric ‘so much money!’ is a story. Gucci Mane’s ‘So much money that I valet park my bicycle’ is a plot.

‘Don’t eat before you go swimming’ is a story. ‘Don’t  eat before you go swimming or you’ll get a cramp and drown’ is a plot. (It’s also not true.)

‘We’re going to build a wall between the United States and Mexico,’ is a rather ugly story. ‘…and Mexico is going to pay for it’ is a plot with a few holes.

I prefer JFK’s story ‘we shall go to the moon,’ and the plot ‘…not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.’

Shot Reverse Shot for Writers

If you watch one video online this week, make it this video essay on the Cohen Brothers’ use of the shot reverse shot from the Every Frame a Painting series. Prepare to never look at a scene the same way again.

Shot reverse shot is when each character gets their own shot, back and forth in dialogue. Every Frame describes the technique as the most basic element of film grammar.

Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot

How do you film a conversation? Most likely, you’re going to block the actors, set up the camera, and do shot/reverse shot. But where do you put the camera? …

In writing, just like filmmaking, the greats are often defined by their mastery of the most basic elements of the craft. Simple is not the same as simplistic. For simple to work on the page or on screen, it has to be precise and precise isn’t easy–think haikus and the western dawnscapes in Cormac McCarthy.

Writers don’t have the advantage of multiple cameras. We can’t write a scene ten different ways simultaneously and cut between the best shots. But we do have lenses, better lenses than the filmmakers. Our lenses cost nothing and can get infinitely close or wide. The fiction writer’s most basic tool is the one you got sick of hearing about in creative writing class: showing vs. telling.

Think of how you might isolate one of your characters in a situation she can’t control, what will her actions reveal to the reader. What’s in the background? What’s on her desk? How does she handle money? This is how scenes are built. Images are often the best place to start, ideas are almost always the worst. Used simply and with precision, the basics of showing vs. telling will help you bring characters to life using fewer words. Your reader will experience meaning rather than being told what your scene means.

Image: Esquire