o the other day I was reading Louis L’Amour’s North to the Rails and my station came up (I was riding the train to the nearest station so I could launch the folding bike at the car shop – it is nice to have a bike that will fit in the boot of a Mini Cooper). Anyway, Longwood Station. Time to get off. And I was just to the part where our hero, Chantry, looks up from his camp to find two enemies sitting on their horses, looming over him.
They were going to kill him. Koch would never have it otherwise, nor Rugger either, for that matter.
And then I was into my real life, riding the Brompton two miles to the shop, laying out $800 for a couple of solenoids and an oil change, the drive home, a deserved nap. Decided that we’d go to casual dinner tonight (bring books!). Drove over to the Roughhouse Cafe, ordered, carried the tray to our table, sorted out the food, broke open the story to where I’d remembered I was at.
“Let me make you an offer, boys,” Chantry said pleasantry, and drew his gun.
Wait! What was going on? I backtrailed the plot and remembered Koch and Rugger having the drop. But certainly the hero wouldn’t…
…He drew, and shot Rugger out of the saddle, then switched the gun to Koch.
But wait a minute…
Koch’s rifle was coming up and Chantry’s bullet (so I guess he did fire) aimed for his mid-section, hit the hammer and glanced upwards, catching Koch under his chin…
And that was pretty much that.
I had to laugh – I broke reading at precisely the point L’Amour intended to shock me. And I guess he did – made me blink. See, until then, Chantry was an eastern dude, standing against killing. And this was the moment he decided that he didn’t get a flop. Shame I broke where I did. But a nice transition, all the same.
As readers, I suppose this means we should always strive to make it to the story and chapter breaks (as the author intended). Of course, station arrivals and sleepy lights out times sometimes make that unobtainable. But still, it’s nice to break away clean.
And as writers, we must assume that people will step out of our story at any point. You must stay aware of this, especially if there is a vital clue or a critical turn of action. In fact, some readers might walk away for weeks. Months, even. You can’t force them to keep at it (but with modern e-books, the publishers can track this data exactly). But it’s something to hold in the back of your mind.
And as cowboys, we need to remember to never get on Chantry’s bad side.