Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Outlines and Re-writes and Edits, Oh My!

I haven’t been using outlines when I write lately. One of my WIP manuscripts is completely un-outlined. If I dig around in my files, I probably have an old plot treatment of some sort that I haven’t looked at in years. But no working outline. Each chapter is occurring as I sit down and write. Kind of organic, really.

My other WIP manuscript has a sort-of outline attached to the end of the manuscript. Literally…a few blank lines after the last sentence, you would find a bullet list of the events in the plot. I ended up jotting down the high-level plot points on this one because I found myself getting swept up in the fantasy of this story. There are magic, dragons, and journeys through dark forests in this book and I’d MUCH rather write all that description than stick to the action. So – to keep myself honest, I figured having a cheat sheet of the actual EVENTS that needed to take place wouldn’t hurt. I can definitely say it is handy for keeping me on the right track and keeping my action moving along the plot curve. This way, I hope I won’t forget any crisis points or events that will help my characters change the way I need them to as their story unfolds.

But…even though I do refer to those last pages of my manuscript when I sit down to work, and even though I just told you it is helpful…there is something so planned about it. Something the opposite of organic. Something sort of…well….limiting.

I will say that some hybrid form of outlining (not the roman numeral type from school, but still…) was absolutely necessary when I wrote a novel with a friend.  Keeping a full story straight as you move it from your head to your laptop or paper is hard enough, let alone when that story is growing and emerging from two writers simultaneously. It was sort of a magic trick – writing with a partner. And I like to think of our ever-shifting outlines and notes and conversations about what coulda/shoulda/oughta happen next or last or sometime in the book were organic in their own right. But we did write those “coulda/shouldas” down so we were both on the same page (pun definitely intended).

I think I like organic, but might need outlines and notes.

Here’s the other thing I should confess – the organically growing manuscript? It’s been organically growing for years. Really. Years. The outlined one with dragons? Moving much faster.

So maybe the outlines are not only a good tool for keeping the details straight – but offer some sort of impetus, too. An urge. A nudge. If something can be outlined, it can be written, right?

What about you? Do you use outlines? Do you take notes, write up other “tools” like character sketches or plot diagrams when you write?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Drummer Boy

I've been stuck with my writing lately -- but was challenged by a friend to write a Christmas story and share it with other writers I know. So...as a gift to myself this holiday season, I've taken time for myself. Time to write when I've been not giving myself that time lately at all.

It is just a first draft -- the beginning of a simple story, but I'll share it with you. I've always loved the Christmas carol "The Little Drummer Boy." Even as a little girl, I loved the pictures in my head when I heard that song -- pictures of a small boy who wanted so desperately to show his love for his new king that he gave the only thing he had: his music.

So -- as inspired by my favorite Christmas carol... a first, unfinished (much work still to be done) draft of The Drummer Boy. Merry Christmas.

“He’s arrived!”

Father heard the shout and stopped walking. The night was black as ink, but I was still out with Papa and the goats.  I gripped Papa’s thumb tighter so I wouldn’t lose him to the voices in the dark.

“Who’s there?” Papa called.

The figures, dressed in robes that glittered with moonlight, waved from the other side of our little sea of moving goats. When they walked toward us, the animals scattered in two directions, moving out of the way and bleating their unhappiness.

I worried about gathering them back up, but Papa kept a hold of my hand and watched only the men coming toward us in the darkness.

“Blessings to you, on this beautiful night,” the tallest man said. He smiled at Papa and laid one warm hand on my head. He ruffled my hair just a little when he took his hand back. This man was not a shepherd, not in clothes that captured the moonbeams and a beard combed soft and full.  

Papa bowed his head in greeting. “Kind sir, what brings you through our valley tonight?”

“Haven’t you heard? The babe we’ve waited for has come.”

Papa didn’t say anything, but his hand tightened on mine again. I looked up at his face – the face usually full of laughs and smiles and kisses – and saw something new.

“Papa?” I asked. “Papa? Do we have another baby?”

Papa did not answer. He looked at the visitors, one after the other. “Say it again? Tell me again.”

The tall man smiled again and laid one hand on Papa’s shoulder. “It’s true. We are on our way to welcome him. The world will be different now that he has come.”

I tugged on Papa’s finger. “Papa? Who is coming? Is Mama having another baby?”

The visitors all chuckled. Their rumbling laughter sent me hiding in the folds of my father’s dusty robe, but I peeked out of my safe haven and sent a smile to the closest stranger. He smiled back and winked one eye.

“Where?” Papa let go of my hand and let me cling to his clothes.

“Not far. Only another day’s journey from here, we think,” one of the men replied. “We are bringing gifts to celebrate his birth.”

“I want a gift!” I said, boldly, from my hiding place.

Laughter rumbled from the men again. “Oh, my boy! He is a gift for us all, this new baby.”

“But who is he?”

“The king.” My father’s voice was soft.

“He is our new king,” the tall man said as he kneeled down in the dust. He held out his hand, each finger encircled with a wide gold band and jewels that reflected the stars.

I looked up and Papa nodded at me with a smile. I reached out and took the stranger’s hand. He pulled me closer, until I was tucked right up against his chest, looking out over our herd with him. One long arm pointed up to the sky over my shoulder. “See that star? That is a sign from God that his son has some to lead us all.” I could feel his voice against my back. He smelled of wood smoke and something spicy. I leaned into his warmth and followed his gaze up to the bright star.

“God’s son?” I whispered. Papa had told me God would send us a king some day and that king would teach us to love one another. He would bring all of God’s love down to us and keep us safe.

“Can I give the new baby a gift, Papa?” I asked from within the tall man’s embrace.

Papa’s eyes changed. He looked out over our goats and the dry ridge where we lived. He looked back over his shoulder to where our tents stood, a small fire burning on the horizon. Finally, he looked at the men surrounding me – at their rich robes and jeweled hands.

“We do not have as great a gift as these men, son. We do not have a gift worthy of a new king.”

“But your welcome will be gift enough,” one of them said. “His parents will know you come to welcome him. That will be enough.”

Papa shook his head just a little and looked at me as I stood still tucked in the man’s glittering embrace. “We may not have a gift worthy of a king, but I insist we welcome you for a rest and a meal. Come, son – show our new friends the way home.”