I’ve heard it said that language functions as the road to move the reader through the story, and that punctuation, spelling, and grammar are the road signs that help the reader navigate one’s prose. Who said that a road must be beautiful? It is pavement — rock, sand, and mineral mixed together and laid out in a uniform mold. Who said road signs must be pristine. They are made of corruptible painted and printed metal.
I agree that the very best roads are so smooth that I do not feel the seams. But, the other day, after church, a friend asked if I had taken County Highway 5? Her husband said not to take the road, for it was so rough that he feared their car would fall to pieces. “He’s exaggerating,” she said. “You must take it home today.”
The road was indeed rough, gritty, with clear seams, and some poorly patched potholes. Just before we exited the city, we hit a rut so big I thought our engine had fallen out. I doubted my friend’s suggestion. Then rose the bluffs of the Mississippi river valley and soon my wife and I forgot about the road; and we lost ourselves in rolling valleys, red peeling barns, grazing long horned cattle, and forest collared fields. We stopped driving the speed limit. We drove slower. I looked at my wife and said, “I want to live here.” “Me, too,” she said.
Sometimes we as storytellers spend too much time focusing on making our roads perfect, when we should rather focus our time on paving the path that can lead our readers into the imperfect undulating landscape of our souls. If a reader wanted a perfect road, then they would have taken the interstate. I don’t want to see the interstate. I want to go on a journey. I want to go someplace I could have never gotten to had you not laid the road. Yes, your prose may seem rough, and it may never be perfect. That is fine. Just give me a road, a long and winding road on which I can lose myself. I will forget the patched potholes. I will forgive the seams. For I know there is a story in your heart, a deep and an alive place that I want to travel. So, please, share your heart with me. Rather than a perfect road, give me a landscape so breathtaking, it will compel me to ask my friend, “Have you taken County Highway 5?”