Compatibility 2nd Section

(If you haven’t read the first part of this story, go back to Section 1 so to find out what is going on.)

If you remember, we left the couple hitching a ride into town to get ice cream and to stock up on food for the trail.

Penelope and Philip sat on a retaining wall outside of the Blakesville Piggly Wiggly eating their quarts of ice cream. The sun was bright, but it was a reasonably cool day and no one was demanding that anyone walk another ten miles.

“Well,” said Philip, “the bus station is just down the street. Shall we go look at bus schedules?”

“Not me,” said Penelope. “I guess I forget too easily.”


“Maybe it’s the ice cream. I’m trying to remember just how awful it is to walk a whole day up and down slippery mountains in the cold rain. Now the sun is shining and I have someone to talk to who isn’t pushing me to hike faster. How about you? Bus schedules?”

“No, I’ve stopped feeling hungry for the first time in a week. I’m going to go on for a while at least, but now I’m going to be completely laid back. No twenty ticks a day unless I feel like it and its cool and the sun is shining. But if I’m going back on the trail, the first shelter is six miles in and I need to resupply the groceries.

“There’s a plan. I need to stock up myself.”

I’m going to interrupt here even though it is not a point where you could actually end the story. This is a good point to talk about whether a story should be plot driven or character driven. Plot driven means I figure out a plot and walk my characters through it. For example, I could decide right here and now that this is going to be a romance. They will take off down the trail together, meet with some crisis along the way, work together to solve the problem and when they leave the trail, be romantically involved.  Then I stuff the characters into that plot.

Instead, I’m going to make the story character driven, mainly because I like working that way. I have an idea of what each of the characters is like and I’ll let them work thinks out as they go along as long as what they do is consistent with their characters.

If I’m going to go in that direction, I should begin to think about who these two people are.  We know they have much in common, unfortunately mostly on the negative side. Each of them has just been dumped by a partner. So each of them is going to go through some self-recrimination and each is going to be wary about committing to a new relationship. Yet each of them sees in the other a fellow sufferer in the swamp of rejection and thus someone who just might understand their feelings. This is not love at first sight. This is simply a hope for mutual support.

Enough of all that.  It is time the two of them go into the Piggly Wiggly and begin to try to figure out whether they are going to hike together or separately.  

They met in the Pasta aisle. Penelope was reaching for a package of Kraft macaroni and cheese when Philip pushed his cart up next to hers.

“While you’re there,” he said, “reach down a couple of those for me.”

“The universal hiking food,” she said. “If you can find nothing else, you can always find these.” She handed him the packages. She reached into her cart and picked up a large round container of iced tea mix. “This is the smallest size they had. It’s way too much for me. Want to split it?”

“Sure. I’ve got lots of baggies.”

“Baggies,” she said, “thanks for reminding me.”

“Look,” he said, “are you figuring on staying at that first shelter? Valhalla Creek, I think it’s called. Six miles in.”

“Sounds good.”

 “Then,” he said, “I’m going to get us a steak. You aren’t a vegan or a vegetarian or anything like that, are you?”

“No. but how are you going to cook it?”

“I carry this way too big aluminum pan. We’ll build a fire. How many ounces?”


“How many ounces can you eat?”

“I could probably eat about thirty, but let’s say eight. Shared steak is great, but just for tonight.”

“Just tonight?”

“I mean we both are hiking in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we both end up staying at the same spot every night. So we should have our own food, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t share stuff if we happened to be camping at the same place.”

“Sounds good.” They looked at the contents of the other’s shopping cart and started laughing.

“Two minds that think as one,” said Philip.

“Well there is only so much crap worthwhile to carry on your back.”

Philip picked up a plastic packet of tuna fish from Penelope’s cart and looked at it.

“What are you doing?” she said.

“Just checking.”

“Checking what?”

“Whether it was canned in oil or water.”

“Of course it’s oil. More calories. You think I’m some tenderfoot out for the first time?”

“Excuse me. Just trying to be helpful. Think I’ll go get that steak. Should I have them cut it in half so each of us can carry half?”

“You carry the whole thing. But I am not going to let you out of my sight.”

So things are moving along. They’ve worked out an arrangement for hiking that doesn’t obligate either of them to meet up every night. Neither of them has made any commitment to the other. Or have they? On the other hand, they’ve made it very easy for them to hike together.

Here is a good point to talk about point of view. We obviously started out with Philip’s point of view, what with him hiking alone up the trail. I’m going to keep it that way. I just feel that it is cleaner and less confusing for the reader. It also lets the reader comfortably associate with one of the characters who is what I’ll call the main character.

The problem with the single point of view is that there are times when it might be nice for the reader to pop inside another character’s head and see some private thoughts not known to the main character. Generally I handle that problem with conversation. However, you do have the option for the main character to speculate as to what another character is thinking.

The important point is, however, that you think about point of view and its effect on the reader. Do you want the reader to feel like a kind of god looking down at the characters and understanding all their thoughts or do you want the reader to empathize with one character and see the world along with him or her?

Enough of this. Let’s move the story along.

On a morning four days later they had had breakfast and packed their packs. The sun was just above the trees and it looked like another warm day. As Penelope shrugged into her pack, Philip stood behind her and steadied the pack. When he hoisted on his pack, he felt her steady hand give it the final lift into place. Neither of them spoke. He realized that this little bit of helping hand had become part of the ritual of their days together on the trail.

Penelope must have been thinking similar thoughts as she said, “You know we’re getting pretty close to committed to hiking together,” she said. 

“What do you mean by committed?” he said. It was not a word he wanted to hear after breaking up with Karen, if he had broken up with her.

She must have seen his slight puzzled frown. “I don’t mean like romance committed,” she said. “I mean being dependent on each other. For example, all the iced tea mix is in your pack right now.”

“Well, he said, “that’s no big dependence. We’ve got baggies. It would take a couple of minutes to divide it up.” 

“That was more like an example,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of little things that makes hiking together better than going it alone.”

Philip thought about that. It was true. Hiking with Penelope was a lot more fun that hiking alone. At the very least it pretty well killed the loneliness. It didn’t seem to imply any true kind of commitment. When one of them decided to leave the trail or to hike a little faster, they could sort out the iced tea and go their separate ways, leaving that temporary dependence behind as just a pleasant memory. Or would it work that way? Who would replace her? Would it be Mr. Loneliness who was always hiking behind them on the trail, just out of sight?

“Well, whatever it is,” he said, “I’m enjoying it. So why are we standing here talking when we could be hiking?”

They started off down the trail with Penelope in front. As he walked behind her seeing the familiar back of her pack above and her hiking shorts and tanned legs and worn boots below, he realized that he didn’t want their companionship to end. He just wanted to go on and on with Penelope, with no commitments, up an infinite trail that never ended. Which was foolishness. Trails always ended, and you always went back to that real world of school, work and parents.

Now one problem with hiking a long- distance trail is that such hikes are basically boring. Once you get into the swing of a long distance hike, you are performing a grueling task which you repeat day after day. You get up in the morning after a not very comfortable sleep and throw together a quick breakfast. You put your stuff back in your pack in exactly the same places as before. You start out, rain or shine, and walk down a narrow pathway through pretty much the same woods with perhaps a couple of stops on mountaintops with a view. You stop and find a camping spot or a shelter, find water and purify it, cook a dinner pretty much like all the previous ones and go to sleep when it gets dark. You can look forward to the same deal tomorrow and all the days ahead.

So if you write a story or a novel about such an experience, it can be pretty boring as well. There are not many external challenges to the characters you put out on the trail, pretty much everything that happens has to be internal to your characters.

I suppose that I could keep my two characters hiking on down the trail for two or three weeks until they get bored with the trail and each other and that boredom precipitates some kind of a crisis. Unfortunately, the reader will get bored long before they do.

So I’m going to put a glitch in the works. Understand, I’m not creating a plot and slotting my characters into it. I’m creating an event and letting my characters work out their solutions to it.

But before we see the glitch, take a look back at the previous couple of pages. I jump from the supermarket to four days later and then try to summarize what’s happened between those two times. Timewise, there’s a big hole in the story. How do you feel about that? Is there a hole? Or did your imagination fill it in as you heard the two of them talking about it? If there is a hole, how would you fill it?

That’s it for this section. I’m saving the glitch for Section Three as I want you to see how I handled it as a first round attempt and I need your input has to how you would handle the problem. But give me some feedback right now even if only to let me know you’ve read this far. You can either comment at the bottom of this page or by e-mail to I’ll stick your comments in below.

To got to the 3rd section, click here: 3rd Section


I like this section a lot!  And I really like the mention of “Mr. Loneliness” at the end of section two.  It told me something brand new about Philip that was hidden (to me, anyway).  I also like that the crying woman isn’t a wimp.
I also like the extended teach by example/illustration method you use in this whole section.  I don’t see it as an interruption at all and they come at the right place.  Waiting for the next part! RBH

One thought on “Compatibility 2nd Section

  1. The hole works. The concept of having the characters drive the story really works for me. I struggle writing fiction because I always put the plot first. Very often my characters don’t fit the plot and I get stuck.


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