I know a very talented writer who claims she never attempts novel length manuscripts. She is quick to say, “I can’t clearly visualize every aspect of the plot in advance. I don’t want to start and then get stuck.”
It’s easy to empathize. Some writers develop a highly detailed outline before committing a word to paper. Such discipline should be commended. Those of us who aren’t especially good at creating outlines and pre-solving every conceivable challenge with plot can, however, skip the outlining exercise. Rather than create an intricate outline, we can start with a rough draft.
At least for me, part of the fun of writing is discovery of additional possibilities as the story unfolds.
Consider a person about to wade across a river. She knows where she’s beginning, and can look across the flow to see her destination on the far shore. She knows there are a series of stones upon which she can step to find a path. In fact, she can see the first three or four stones. Should she wait to start across until she can see the rest of her footings? If she does, she will most likely never begin the crossing.
Like the woman wading across a river, when we write plot we should have a specific idea just exactly where we tend to go. Where will we emerge? Directly opposite on the far bank? Upstream or downstream a little ways? In a marsh, on a mud bank, or in a meadow? How will the story end?
Before we start, we are certain where we’re at. We have yet to set foot in the stream. We know where the first stepping stone, and the second, and possibly the third will be found. Beyond the stones we can see from our safe and uncommitted perch on shore, we can be sure there will be others.
The best way to find the rest of the stones is to start across the river. From the fresh perspective of the third or fourth stone, we should be able to see the next two or three steps. Each chapter we complete should advance the plot toward the destination, as well as create opportunities to see a little farther into the process.
As long as we keep making progress toward that far shore, whether the marsh, the mud bank, or the meadow, the process is artful and legitimate.
There may even be times when we choose the wrong stone, and find ourselves headed in a direction that reaches a dead end or eventually veers off drastically from the intended destination. If that happened to us when crossing a stream, we would back up a few stones and look for another path. We have exactly the same option when crafting plot. If we reach a dead end, or the plot takes off in the wrong direction, we can back up a few steps and explore for an alternate path.
Next time my friend complains to me that she can’t attempt a novel because she’s unable to visualize every detail in advance, I owe her a confession. “Neither can I.” Those of us who don’t write to an intricate outline are faced with a choice. Will we consider the rocks in the river stumbling blocks, or stepping stones?
Genre: Metaphysical fantasy
Publisher: Starry Night Publishing
Date of Publication: January 26, 2015
Number of pages: 316
Cover Artist: Larry Dubia
The metaphysical fantasy continues in this sequel to Summertime, Book One. Wesley Perkins spirals ever deeper into a world he struggles to understand, inextricably linked to the tragic past of a long dead blues musician, Judah Jones. His closest allies are Jones’ granddaughters. Wesley must endure a variety of forces attempting to manipulate his fate, after being warned about the dangers presented by his own ego.
Meanwhile, in Iberia Parish Louisiana, pilgrims seek a new home in a spiritual enclave established by a charlatan radio preacher. The entire community falls victim to an ancient heresy. Are these disparate universes part of a common, supernatural conflict?
Excerpt Book 2:
Ira lodged Memphis Rail and the Family Jones at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. Mary Towne retired to her room upon arrival. Vanessa and Redd Wilmott shared a room, as did Wesley Perkins and Rebekah.
Art Abbott and John Flood sought out the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar. Back in the 1940’s, the Fairmont converted the hotel’s indoor swimming pool to a Tiki bar. The pool became a rectangular lagoon, with a floating stage. A ship’s mast, tropical huts, Polynesian sculptures, and the façade of an Asian house illuminate by paper lanterns instilled a dimly lit atmosphere. Faux thatched roofs hovered over tables around the perimeter of the pond.
A waitress approached their table.
“Tonga Mai Tai, please,” requested John.
Art chuckled. “You really want one of those candy ass drinks served in a phony coconut shell?”
“Make mine a Seagram’s and Seven, please, Miss,” said Art.
John rested his elbow on the table and his head on his fist. “Gonna be a big day tomorrow. Two shows, sold out. Who woulda thought? Even six months ago, we be lucky to sell four or five thousand seats.”
Art shook his head with a shiver. “Yeah, but are you really OK with this? I’m thinkin’ about that incident at Rain Crow. And a shitload of other stuff to boot. I heard you play the sax, once, a long time ago. You couldn’t get a goddam note out of that Wesley Perkins’ horn. What’s up with that?”
“Hell, I don’t know exactly. Seems spooky as shit, if you ask me. For now, I’ve just decided to ride along, ‘cause the money’s gonna be really good.”
“Money? Holy crap man, is all of this reduced to bein’ about money?”
“Well, no. But money’s a big part of it,” said John. “Was a time it was mostly about love. Hell, I’d a paid to drum for The Rail when we first started out. Now days, I’m mostly old, tired, worn out, and ready to give it up and go home.”
Art was ready to change the subject. “Check out that floatin’ stage.”
“Yeah, so what about it, other than it’s pretty small.”
“Ever think there’s this invisible line?”
John shifted to the opposite elbow. “Huh? I don’t follow you, really.”
“Like there’s this invisible line between where we are and where everybody else is. It’s sort of the edge of the stage, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, hell yeah. Most of the folks buyin’ tickets think that there’s some magical divide. Like we never have to take a piss halfway through a set. Like we ain’t put in fifty hours of rehearsal and made a hundred mistakes for every sixty seconds we have out shit together during a concert. Hell yeah, I get that.”
“So, that floatin’ stage just makes the point more directly. Sort of like there’s this middle ages moat or something.”
The waitress returned with the drinks. “Are you gentlemen staying here at the hotel? If so, we’d be pleased to start a tab and bill it to your room.”
A young woman passed their table. She stopped abruptly, and looked deliberately at the two musicians. She flashed a slow smile of recognition, coupled with a slight nod, before she waved very slightly and continued on her way. Art and John watched her hips shift back and forth beneath a short, tight skirt.
Art sipped his drink. “You see the posters?”
About the Author:
Seattle native Chuck Gould is a writer and musician.
Formerly editor of Nor’westing Magazine and editor emeritus of Pacific Nor’West Boating, he has written over 1,000 articles for recreational boating magazines.
Chuck plays a variety of keyboard instruments, and enjoys the “exercise in humility” attempting to master the great highland bagpipe.
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