Traffic Circles

By Philip (Norval Joe) Carroll

I had two things I was going to choose from to write about this week, but tonight as I was driving home from the grocery store, I got hooked into a rant. I just can’t ignore a good rant. So you’ll have to wait until next week to hear my thoughts about finally finishing Nanowrimo, what is the order of priorities when trying to develop a writing career, and the two books I have finished reading in the last two weeks.

I’ve spent most of my life in California. I spent a couple years in South Africa as missionary when I was 19 to 21 and then five years in the army from age 23 through 28. I now reside in a small town half way between Sacramento and Fresno called Modesto. We’re not a sophisticated city, but we have had a bit of culture forced on us that seems to be a bit confusing to some of the local residents.

Turning circles.

We bought a house in the last of the big developments before the housing crash and something they gave us that many did not expect was turning circles. I knew what they from my time in South Africa. I got run over in one near Cape Town and got a ticket driving through one in Soweto. Both are long winded stories for another time.

When they popped up in my neighborhood, I had my doubts. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are wonderful. There is one in front of the high school and if you avoid it at drop off and pick up time it’s a wonderful thing. You never sit there in the middle of the night at a red light waiting for no one to cross in front of you. And the time you wait to enter it at times other than those terrible two is never about what you would get at an average four way stop.

What kills me is people who can’t figure out how to use them. As you approach the circles there are signs, two of them, on each side of the street. There are diagrams painted on the ground, twice, before you enter the circles. Once in the circles there are more diagrams of where you can go.

Really, it’s pretty simple. The right hand lane may turn right or go straight. The left hand lane may go straight or turn left around the circle. That’s as challenging as it gets.

What kills me is when I am in the left lane going straight and someone is in the right lane and they honk at me for cutting them off and not letting them continue around the circle to the left in the outer, or right hand, lane. READ THE FREAKING SIGNS.

So, what do you do if you find you are in the wrong lane, once in the turning circle? Simple, if you are in the right lane and should have been in the left, you have the choice to either turn right, or go straight through the circle, find a safe and legal place to turn around, and go back to the circle entering it in the correct lane. Now if you’re in the left lane, and should have been in the right, this is the fun one. You get to go all the way around the circle, staying in the middle, or left, lane, and then straight out in the direction you wanted to. It is that simple.

My daughter’s car was hit in a circle and I have narrowly missed being hit by at least three idiots. Next time I am going to let them hit me so the insurance company will total my van and I will have money for a down payment on a newer car.

What’s this got to do with writing?

I planned my Nanowrimo story out on a pretty detailed outline. Yet, at times I found myself in lanes I had planned, but not at the time they occurred. I remember last year, one of my nano buddies was doing a fan fic about professional wrestlers. He said one of his characters made a career change at 6,000 words in, and it was an irreconcilable lane change.

I figure if you found your story is in the right lane by accident, you can take a right turn, or go straight until you can find a point where you can turn your story back around and head it to the turning point you originally intended. Or if you’re in the left lane instead of the right, you can go all the way around the circle and hit the plot from a different angle.

My good friend Jeff says he doesn’t outline his plot, because it never turns out like he had planned anyway. I would never want my outline to go exactly as planned, because it’s the discovery and development that I didn’t expect that make writing interesting to me. But using turning circles helps me stay true to the idea of the story without having to bag the whole thing and start over because one of my characters decided to act differently than I originally planned.

Philip ‘Norvaljoe’ Carroll is a staff editor at Flying Island Press and is lost and confused most of the time. He misses 90% of all right turns and highway exits and spends much of his life discovering what is between where he intended to turn off and where he is able to turn around.

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