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Lightening the Load

Conflict is the soul of literature. - Erica Jong

Recently, I have been very intrigued with the idea of horseback camping and backpacking. I love the outdoors, always have, and those things speak to my inner person. As a child, I spent a lot of time playing outside and in the woods. By the way, whatever happened to that? I am a big fan of kids playing outside and in the dirt. It may be messy, but it sure is more natural than all the screen time kids are getting now. I digress.

Unless I change my mind at this late hour, which I have certainly been known to do, my next novel will take place in the distant past. Most of you know by now that history is also a love of mine and the particular period I have in mind for the next project is one in which horseback and foot travel were still very much the order of the day. I believe the prospect of writing in such a period caused me to think about undertaking more primitive recreational activities. Call it a research tactic, but I now blame writing for most of my whims. It is quite a convenient excuse.

As I got into the early planning stages of a backpacking or primitive horseback camping trip, I learned a lot of new things about “best practices” regarding packing efficiency. I was familiar to an extent, having taken many a day trip on horseback, needing only to bring what I could fit in my saddle bags, but the need to pack light is magnified when one is planning to backpack. Our horses, which are probably on the small end of average among the various breeds, regularly carry about 200-250 pounds worth of gear and personage. I sometimes walk in the afternoons with a ten pound vest, and having done that, I can tell you that the load bearing capability of the horses is not a ratio I can match! I am sure that some of my readers are much more qualified to opine about backpacking than I, but common sense will soon demand that when you have to carry everything you need, you start to economize in a hurry.

As a writer, all that got me thinking about baggage, not the literal but the emotional. I could not help but think of the central role that conflict plays in story. Often, something past, present, or future plagues the characters. They may even feel pursued by their troubles. Conflict is a weight, and each character aims to pack lighter as the story develops. In Dunnigan, each character has to grapple with their “heavy items.” Like thrifty backpackers, they must decide what is worth carrying and what is best set aside. Once again, it occurs to me that writing is a great parallel to our lives. Just as the characters in our favorite narratives, we all have to deal with our respective conflicts. Who knows, maybe they even inspire the courage within us that we need to do so. But like the conscientious hiker paring down their kit, it is sometimes much easier said than done. Whatever the case, I hope this helps us all to think a little more about lightening the load.

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