Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cowboys and Indians

The Appalachian mountains of Southern West Virginia served as the playground during my childhood. We were rugged outdoor kids who simply loved adventure. We didn't sit indoors like most kids today (jeez, I sound like my father), playing video games and surfing the Net . . . we were too busy out playing ball, swinging on grapevines, catching crawdads and minnows, hiking, swimming or fishing at the old pond, camping, or anything else that would get us out of the house. Had our parents only known a fraction of what we were doing, they would have surely maintained a fuller prayer life.

We'd play hide-and-seek, tag, and tackle-the-man-with-the-football, as well as make-believe games like (the now politically incorrect) cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. In the world of make-believe, guns were created by sticking your thumb straight up and extending your index finger straight out while curling the other three around a make-believe pistol grip. If someone pointed his "gun" at you and shouted "Bang!" or "Pow!" you were considered dead and were obligated to fall to the ground immediately without moving.

One day in particular we were playing cowboys and Indians deep in the mountains. Envisioning myself as John Wayne, better known as the Duke, I had my "five-shooters" out and ready for action. I decided to climb a huge tree to get a better view of where the bad-guys were hiding. Climbing higher and higher, I saw no sign of anyone until I was six to eight feet off the ground. It was from there I noticed Gary Browning (my cousin) quietly sneaking along, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. I allowed him to move in a little closer before taking aim. However, I was distracted by a noise from the other side of the tree.

Turning to investigate, I found myself staring straight down the index finger of Curtis Gibson. "Pow!" he shouted from the ground. Panicked that I was so far up the tree, I began climbing down as fast as I could.

"The Duke has been shot in the foot!" I said. Remember, I was obligated to fall, but I was eight feet off the ground in a tree.

"Bang!" shouted Gary, who was now aware of my hiding place.

"The Duke has been shot in the shoulder!" I screamed as I kept climbing down.

"Pow, Pow!" A double shot came from Curtis.

"The Duke has been shot twice in the calf!" I said, nearly reaching the ground.

Then as I was dangling from the lowest limb, Curt and Gary emptied their imaginary ammo into me. “Pow!” “Bang-Bang!” “Pow, Pow-Pow!” “Bang!”

I finally dropped to the ground, announcing, "The Duke is dead!"

As writers we sometimes have characters acting similarly on the page, don’t we? You know what I mean, they’re doing silly things that really doesn’t move the story forward. Pointless behavior that has nothing to do with the plot or conflict around them.

Remember, anytime we have a character acting in a particular manner because it serves the character, rather than serving the story, we run the risk of losing the reader. After all, no one likes to be lied to.

I think the real Duke, John Wayne, said it best. “I don’t act . . . I react.”

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1 comment:

  1. That is good advice and a great story. Did you have a felt cowboy hat and real leather boots as well? Coincidentally, 'The Duke' grew up just a couple of counties away from where I live (just on the way to Des Moines, actually)