Bruce and I spied a coyote in broad daylight, loping along a busy section of road in our neighborhood.
A big, fluffy, healthy-looking predator.
My first thought was: Man, are you out of place. We shouldn’t be seeing you during the day. Here, in busy suburbia.
Then I thought: Wait a minute, this coyote is as much a part of suburban Colorado as bunnies, ducks, and squirrels. Most likely, he’d been attracted into the neighborhood by the sight or scent of a cat or small dog.
Though we seldom see coyotes around here during the day, we’re aware of their presence. Their nighttime howling choruses. The circling of buzzards over an abandoned coyote kill. Bits of bunny fluff wafting across the nature trail behind our house.
As writers, we have our own “coyotes.” You know, the writerly craft that kills our unnecessary scenes, redundancies, awkward sentences, illogical character motivations. My “coyotes” hunt in the dark, and bury the evidence of literary devices that might be obtrusive. Noticed by readers.
The coyotes are always there. Just not seen.
And that’s the way they should be. Chasing down their prey. Cleaning up the neighborhood so it looks—to the casual observer (reader)— neat and orderly.
If something’s not in the right place—a bunny on the tree, a duck eating sushi on the front porch, a squirrel sunbathing in the middle of the street— the traveler through our literary neighborhood notices…and loses a little respect for what he observes.
We hope that the reader doesn’t actually see the “kill.”
We hope that he or she simply enjoys the uncluttered story path.
Oh, how we’d love to be wildly creative without having to think about such things as plot, characterization, story arc, motivation. But, for the sake of the readers, we employ our coyotes.
Because one bunny on the trail makes sense, but twenty bunnies just seems far-fetched.
Howl, howl, howl away, coyotes!