Sometimes the darnedest memories raise their little heads and say, “Pick me! Pick me! I’d like to be in a post.” In this case it was the memory of pigeons.
I once heard that if you put an owl in your yard the pigeons will stay away because the owl is a natural predator. It doesn’t have to be a live owl, just a good imitation will do. When I lived in Arizona, we had a pigeon problem. They came in by the dozen and the left their own personal little yard art signature on everything. Ick.
My husband and I went to a local auction one Saturday and there was a lovely, large fake owl, front and center. The eyes looked so realistic. I had to have it. Thankfully, there was only one other person who wanted it but they didn’t want it as much as I did. The owl had a new home, in our backyard.
We had a pond which is where the pigeons loved to congregate. They’d do everything but put their fingers (if they had any) in their ears and give us the raspberry. Pppffffffttt. Even the dogs didn’t scare them because there was a fence around the pond and the dogs couldn’t get to them. I’ll give you one guess where we put the owl. Uh huh. We set him in the rocks by the pond.
The next day I saw three pigeons sitting on the block wall. I swear, they sat there and stared at the owl. Within moments they flew away. Later in the day, the same thing happened again.
I sighed in relief. Our pigeon problem had been solved and all it took was a fake owl. Just in case, I watched again the next day. Same thing. The pigeons watched the owl, probably shivering in fear, and flew away.
Then I learned a sad lesson. Birds aren’t as dumb as you might think. A couple of days later I went outside and there were pigeons lounging around the pond. Two of them were actually sitting next to the owl, staring at it as though say, “Come on, pal. Make my day. Just try to get me.”
You might wonder what this story has to do with writing. You never know where a story idea might come from. I learned a few things from this experience, and they can be applied to pretty much any mystery. I learned that pigeons are afraid of owls. I learned that if the owl never moves, the birds begin to catch on that it’s probably not coming after them. I learned that even pigeons can flex their muscles. There were practically taunting the owl.
When you’re writing a book you have to come up with a situation and causation. You have to decide what motivates characters, whether it’s a good guy or a bad guy. Many times you need a believable confrontation. How will the confrontation be resolved?
I’m what’s called a “pantser.” Basically, that means I write the book without an outline. I sit down and start writing, figuring things out as I go along. I know how I want the story to begin, and I know how I want it to end. Filling in everything in the middle can sometimes be an issue. Sometimes the stories take off in an unplanned direction, kind of like when I realized the pigeons weren’t fooled by the owl. Sometimes my good intentions get in the way and I have to come up with a different ending than I’d planned.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow. You’ve got to be flexible, ready to make changes. I’ve read books where the ending was forced because the author couldn’t let go of an idea. It didn’t work and the book suffered for it. Thankfully, revisions are forgiving. Pigeons? I’m not so sure. I’d swear they were trying to give us dirty looks, and I don’t think they felt very forgiving.
So how did we resolve the pigeon problem? It was simple. We started moving the owl around when the pigeons weren’t in the yard. The fake owl suddenly turned into an owl with feet and the ability to move, at least in the eyes of the pigeons.
Have you ever had to take a left turn in a book when you had your heart set on a right turn? It happens. Go with it. Be flexible and ready to write what’s going to work the best in your story. Be ready to move that owl.
Until next time, don’t take any wooden owls, uh, nickels, and if pigeons are invading your space, watch where you step. It could get ugly. Find yourself an owl.
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Just out: One Adventure Too Many – A Sandi Webster Mystery. Need a few laughs? This book might provide those.