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Last Saturday, my cell phone rang at 8:10 AM. When I picked it up it read “Nancy Next Door.” 


Uh-oh. 

Nancy Next Door only calls when there’s something wrong. A coyote jumping into my yard. A fallen tree on our shared fence. A broken gate…that sort of thing. Naturally, I thought a tree had fallen since A. there are lots of trees in the woods and in my yard that are leaning in a bad way and B. after over a year, I’d finally fixed the fence from the last fallen tree. 

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“Are you home?” asked my neighbor. I was not. I was five hours away, at the beach. “There’s an alarm going off in your house,” she said. “I don’t see smoke but it’s been going off for about 15 minutes.” 

No problem, I told her. I’d call my other neighbor who has a key to my house. 

It’s 8:20 or so on a Saturday morning, and my neighbor answers her phone and after hearing my predicament replies, “I’m not home.” She’d had a family emergency the night before and was at her in-laws’ house, checking in. She was 15 minutes away but still, I hated to ask her to drive over to my house. 

“That’s okay,” I say, “I’ll call my daughter.” 

My daughter lives about 20 minutes from my house. But when I call her, she doesn’t pick up. 

Saturday is her day off, I know that she likes to catch up on her sleep. Who knows if she’s even got her phone turned on? And I don’t want to call her husband because…well, what if they’re not asleep, if you catch my drift? So I can call my sons (both of whom live about an hour away and let's face it, they're not going to pick up) or call back my neighbor (with the key). I call the neighbor.

She doesn’t pick up, either. 

It’s now 8:30. My smoke alarm has been going off for at least a half hour, maybe longer. I’m pacing like a lunatic, wondering what to do when my cell rings and it’s my daughter. She listened to my message and she was pulling on her jeans and heading straight over to my house. Whew! 

I call Nancy Next Door who says, yep, the alarm is still going off. She still doesn’t see smoke. But now I am really alarmed. I suspect that the alarm she’s hearing is coming from my basement; I remember that I store paint and all kinds of other cleaning products down there. 

I call my daughter who’s just about at my house and tell her to be VERY careful. “Touch the front door. If it’s hot, just call 9-1-1.” I’m still on the phone with her when she gets to the house. “The door is cool but the smoke alarm is still going off,” she says. “Should I go in?” I tell her to open the door and determine if she smells smoke. And she says, “Mom, you know I still can’t smell normally. I may not be able to smell smoke.

OH MY LORD. It’s been nearly an hour that the smoke alarm has been blaring! And at this point, like the Calvary riding up, my neighbor who has the key and her husband and full use of her olfactory senses walks up to my door. 

Now, the point to this re-telling is this: how goes the story you’ve been working on?

Because if you don’t have a gripping problem, a couple of interesting characters, and more than a few obstacles to provide a fair amount of tension (and a ticking clock is always good, too), then you don’t have much of a story. You might have some delightfully pretty paragraphs and such but readers need story. 

And P.S. the house didn’t burn down; it was just a faulty smoke alarm. (I’m partial to happy endings but your story can have whatever resolution you like.)

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