Plaiting rawhide strands into romal reins is not all that difficult, and yet it is an uncommon skill. Beyond learning the 12 and 16-strand plaits, a rawhide braider spends a lifetime crafting a signature look. Art. It’s like writing, of course (you saw that coming, didn’t you?).
Writers strip ideas into strands and plait them into stories. Just like rein construction, the story structure might be common — take a 99 word format. It implies that all the stories will be the same, just as one might think all 12-strand romal reins are the same.
But we know they aren’t.
Creativity bends beyond the corners each of us alone can imagine. We see it every week with the responses to the flash fiction challenge. Even if stories follow a similar thread, other stories will add a new thread or a single story can act as a departure point. Each one is different in delivery, vibrancy, and use of craft elements, and yet all are 99 words.
I once knew how to braid romal reins. I trained horses with bosals my family made and I know the buckaroo knot demonstrated in the first few minutes:
Like many of us old enough to have moved beyond our roots, or experienced travel, migration or vagabond wandering, we recognize that differences do exist between hometowns, regions, and cultures. To me, these differences create a world of wonder. Still, we can recognize the traits typical to a place or group of people. And this plays into the writer’s adage — “write what you know.”
If I were to set a story in New Zealand, I would focus on what I know. I don’t know New Zealand terrain or people, so I’d be hard-pressed to write a story that could only take place there among those who call the country home. Instead, I’d write a story that could take place anywhere (a universal tale) and research some convincing details to set the illusion of the place.
It’s similar to writing historical fiction. I could spend a lifetime studying an era and still not get it right. As a writer of historical fiction, I write the universal tale first. I might start with historical facts, but I let the story unfold, then go back and color with historical detail. It’s a challenging craft to get the braid plaited from the present to the past and back again. It’s a challenge I relish. I also focus on places where I’ve experienced a deep connection.
When you’ve experienced a place or culture, a funny little phrase pops into mind, “Only in…” If you are scratching your head as to why I’d share a six-minute video with you about bosals and buckaroo knots, it’s because I wondered if buckaroo culture (particularly rein braiding) had accessed social media. When I saw Guitron’s website I felt a tad giddy because my brain ignited with recognition of something culturally familiar that I hadn’t encountered in decades.
Only in buckaroo country would anyone deftly tie such a knot (or know why). Why? Because when that horse you are training decides to leap through a window in the sky and pulverize your body into corral dust, your knot won’t slip or bind up so tight you have to cut it away.
What got me thinking of “only in” was a post my middle daughter shared on Facebook. She’s my world traveler and for the moment is home in western Montana. Working in hospitality she knows all the restaurant and bar owners. So when three miscreants broke into a place late one night, she posted the story and the security footage to help the owners with identification. Social media acts like a small town — someone is going to recognize you!
How is the story unique to a region? Well, it’s in the details. The story begins with an Only in Montana hook: Two cowboys and a woman broke into a bar after closing. How do we know they were cowboys? Well, they had on cowboy hats like every other cowboy in the region wears. And they had a woman with them identified by her girlie cap with a blonde pony-tail hanging out.
The owners of the bar expressed anger because these three partyers didn’t go home to their ranch; instead, they helped themselves to more booze and beer, taking selfies and having a waffle fight.
I did not make that up: they had a waffle fight.
And here’s where things got weird on social media (only in Montana). Respondents asked questions and made comments in regards to the shame of it all. One question pertained to the selfies — the owner explained that on the security camera they could see the illegal revelers posing with flashes of light. Okay. Then another person brought up the waffles because he’s dismayed that this bar doesn’t make their own.
Grumbling begins. Only in Montana do rural folks care if one of their bars makes fresh waffles or not. Evidently, folks didn’t like hearing there were waffles pre-made. Perhaps the break-in was to expose the bar for its duplicity. Immediately the owner calmed the mob, assuring everyone on social media that their waffles are indeed fresh — the thieves brought their own to the break-in.
So, two drunk cowboys and a female companion break into a bar at 3 a.m., pop the tops of some beer, drink from the whiskey bottles and throw frozen waffles at each other while taking selfies. The town is more upset over the questionable freshness of the bar’s breakfast offering. Who says ranch life is boring out West? Only in Montana.
Here’s my favorite cowboy crooner singing a small piece about a cowboy’s thirst:
I’m thinking they were far into the rye whiskey that night as their antics revealed.
So now it’s your turn. You can think of a place or culture you know well, or you can tell a universal tale (like a break-in) with details that make it specific. The phrase “only in…” is often marked with wry humor like the tone of light-hearted jest.
You’ll often see humorous lists about a place such as my new location. Only in the Keweenaw…
- … do people lick rocks.
- …are parking lots full of snow machines in winter.
- …is a 7-course meal a pasty and a six-pack.
Of course, there are the features indicative of a place, too. Lake Superior, peninsula isolation, moose, wolves differ from North Idaho’s Lake Ponderay, panhandle isolation, moose. Keep in mind your story might be the same, or features might be like elsewhere, but what are the local details?
Think about how you can use this idea to craft a story.
December 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “only in…” It can be used to tell a story about a profession, a place or situation. Go were the prompt leads you.
Respond by December 19, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 20). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Only in a Snowstorm (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Rain splattered wet pavement when Danni walked to the truck. She paused, looking back at the airport doors. On impulse, her legs twitched, urging her to run after Ike, catch him at security and… And what? Demand he stays? Beg? Instead, Danni left and drove toward the snowline where misting Spokane rain gave way to North Idaho snow. She gripped the steering wheel and drove slow on the slick corners where snow accumulated. Only in a snowstorm would Danni drive without giving in to her churning emotions. If it weren’t for the conditions, she’d be risking a speeding ticket.