Outlines Of A Shadow


Sunday morning came, finally.  Awake at 5 AM, unable to sleep, I lay still.  Sometimes, early morning can but fun, but I did not want any distractions.  My outline cried out to me, languishing, unfinished.   So, I quietly climbed out of bed.  No stray hand reached out to me.  I would have weakened.  Instead, I turned up the heat, fed the cat, and put water on for tea.

He got up four hours later, and I made breakfast for him.  He is getting ready for a day of watching football.  I finished my outline for the ending of A Whisper In The Storm (for mature readers).  We are both happy.  Maybe, tonight, we will find a way to celebrate.

The Original Story Idea

When I came to WordPress, I wanted to fill my blog with stories.  I thought to load my old stories.  People would know I existed.  They would flock to read my stuff.  I could finished my in-work creation, and bath in the light of adoration and affirmation.

Failure dogged me at every turn.  My old stories embarrassed me.  After some formatting changes, I put up Awareness of a Dream (for mature readers).  No one flocked to my blog.  No one affirmed what I wrote.

I was hurt.  I pouted.  I vowed never to write again.  But, I weakened.  I write because my soul craves creating something where nothing was before.  And, my heart leaps when someone notices my writing.

The Birth of Whisper

Some time earlier, I wrote another story, on another site.  The central idea came to me, and I wrote a story around it.  I never completed it.  There was no dialog.  The main character was one-dimensional, and the supporting characters were little more than sketches.  For WordPress, I decided to add dialog, and put an ending on it.  After all, with 3,000 words already there, how hard could it be?  I found a new title, and fully expected Whisper to come together quickly.

I hopelessly underestimated the characters, for they were far stronger than I.  They demanded more lines, and insisted on bringing friends with them.  I gave in, deciding it wasn’t that important.  Then they showed me that the thin plot had far more to offer than my imagined key point of the story.  They waited, impatiently, until I learned the reason everything happened.  The central idea, will still necessary, became less important.

Not only that, WordPress corrupted me, especially the writers in the New Hampshire Writers’ Network  I read about the Plot W.  This idea stuck with me.  I want to get a book about it.  But, I was already into Whispers so I kept going.  I rebuilt the short story, dividing it into parts that helped me understand how to stitch together the story development.

I wrote the first three parts, starting with the text from the original story.  I introduced more characters, added tension and conflict, and brought everyone to a point where they could have lived, happily ever after.  About 1,500 words grew to 29,000 words.  For me, the main character, Jamie was deeper and much more complex in her relationship with Christopher, her boyfriend.  And, supporting characters, brand new to the story, added interest and reason.

The rewritten story was about far more than the original key point in the story.  Instead of “The Bad Thing”, the story explored Jamie’s insecurity, as well as bullying, something much in the news of late.  But, I still needed an ending.  And, I needed to change my wicked, wicked ways.  I could no longer just write.  I needed an outline.

How I Learned To Outline

My first introduction to outlines was in school.  I hated them.  The Sisters made me learn.  Rulers can do that.  For years after, when someone mentioned outlines, I looked at my knuckles.  I did not easily warm to the idea of outlines.  So, I did it my way.

My mind runs far faster than I can write on paper, and I could never keep up.  Besides, erasing and rewriting on paper is messy.  How did the old writers do that?  Just think what using a quill pen would be like.  And, if I used note cards, I would fill the table up, and where would we eat?  And, if I used the floor, the dog would just track everything up.  And if I used a bulletin board, everyone would see it before I was ready.

Fortunately, I can type pretty fast.  So, what program should I use?  If I used Word, I could write the longest list in the world, step by step.  But that isn’t how my mind works.  I have lots of ideas whirling around.  And the more complicated and longer my stories become, how could I use lists.  I just could not keep track of everything.

Especially, in the beginning, no part of the story is certain.  I often have some key point, or some special scene I want to write about.  From there, I build a story around it, working backwards, and forwards, adding characters here, and scenes there, always tasting.  (Actually, I cook that way, too.  Grand Mother despairs that I can never make the same thing taste the same way twice.)  My mind is like a butterfly.  I cannot remember everything.  I forget why some things are where I put them.  After a while, I have no idea why someone did something, or will do something.  And, as a character develops, how and where do I add in the little details? One single, long list, would never work, because I could not keep track of everything.

I turned to Excel for my outlines.  Some would say I misused Excel.  I was never an accountant and have no idea how to use it for anything except writing.  It is great as a way for me to organize my thoughts.  I have a main story column.  I write the story outline, step by step, just like I would in Word.  But what is different is that Excel lets me have columns for the characters.  And that make a huge difference.

My Outline(s) For Whisper As The Story Filled Out

My outline for Whisper grew with each draft of my outline:

Scene 1 Scene 2 Scene 3 Scene 4 Scene 5 Scene 6
Set Up For Bad Thing Bad Thing Escape Worst Thing Yet Rescue Happy Ever After
Draft 1 (69 lines) 22% 41% 10% 4% 12% 11%
Draft 2 (119 lines) 10% 29% 11% 6% 26% 18%
Draft 3 (889 lines) 1% 6% 24% 24% 20% 25%

The number of rows, and the percentage of the story each scene took up changed as I understood the story. In the first draft, Scene 2 (The Bad Thing) was almost half the story, and Scene 1 (Set Up For Bad Thing) was almost a quarter.  And that made sense, as I had written about that in the original short story . In the second draft, Scene 5 (Rescue) grew a lot, and Scene 6 (Happy Ever After) also grew, but Scene 3 (Escape) and Scene 4 (Worst Thing Yet) languished.  In the third draft, Scene 3 (Escape) and Scene 4 (Worst Thing Yet) grew up, and Scene 6 (Happy Ever After) became the happy ending all the characters cried for.

Now that I have my outline, I can write Whisper. I have no idea how many words these scenes will turn into. If the story gets too long, I will break this into two parts, with scenes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in one part, and scenes 5 and 6 in the last part. I will get started on it after Thanksgiving. With everything I need to do, I could never find time to write, let alone explain what I was doing to prying eyes.

Something I Hate About Excel

I ran into something about Excel that I hate. For each cell, I can only have 255 letters in it, or it won’t copy.  So, instead of having one cell in the story column just grow and grow, I spent a lot of time splitting up rows so I could get down into the stupid limit and copy the cell to a new sheet. I made a lot of cut and paste errors and probably lost some stuff that, sometimes, I could undo and get back. Sometimes, I just had to rewrite it.

Example Of My Outline

The rest of this article talks about how Scene 1 (The Set Up For the Bad Thing In Scene 2) changes and fills in.  This is a transition from the happy time at the camp fire, in Part 3, to the bad thing.  If you want to skip it, it is okay to stop now.  I will not mind.  In fact, I will never know.

The recipe was pretty simple.  In my first draft, I wrote everything I knew in the Story column, with one idea or key point in each row.  (I ran into that Excel feature).  After I finished everything, I divided the list into scenes.  I tried to make it look right to finish the Plot W.  I made places for deep conflict and crisis leading to the final moment, as well as the happy-ever-after part (which I like best).

My first outline for part of Scene 1 looked like this:

 OUTLINE 1 – Scene 1:  Purpose – Set Up The “Bad” Thing In Scene 2
1 – Everyone discovers Jamie and Christopher are getting ready to leave, and she says her good-byes to Jake / Ruth and Andy / Sandy.
2 – Jamie decides to go to the toilet, alone, and takes Christopher’s jacket
3 – Jake suggests to Christopher that they have one last snort before going to bed

In the second draft, I brought in the characters.  I started with my main character, Jamie, and went through the entire story with her.  I looked at each row and wrote down what she was saying and doing.  Since Whisper is a POV story, Jamie was seeing, hearing, acting, or saying something in almost every row.  When I needed someone else to say or do something, I would add a note in their column, at that row, so I would not forget.  When I needed to, I added a new row in the story column.

Then I went to Christopher’s column, the boyfriend, and went down, step by step, adding in what he was saying and doing.  Since this was all from Jamie’s point of view, Jamie had to guess what Christopher was thinking.  When she could not see him, she could not know what he was doing.  Where I needed Jamie and Christopher to interact, I would add whatever it was to her column.  Then I went through the other characters (The Donks, Candy, Carla, Christopher, Andy and Ruth).  I added in everything that Jamie could see or hear.  The story lines grew for this part of Scene 1 from three lines to six.  Plus, I had all those notes:

OUTLINE 2 – Scene 1:  Purpose – Set Up The “Bad” Thing In Scene Two
 Story Column Jamie Donks Candy Carla Christopher Andy Ruth
1 – Eager to get back and be with Christopher…planning what she is going to do with and to him…decided she is going to tell him about Teddy Kind of bored…and a little impatient Hanging around…watching Christopher and Jamie…hungry Watches…almost with dread Happy go lucky
2 – Everyone discovers Jamie and Christopher are getting ready to leave, and says her good-byes to Jake / Ruth and Andy / Sandy. Are eager to say goodbye but Jamie avoids them Waiting and watching Tells them he will stick around till she gets back…then they will leave…tells her not to take too long Sorry to see him go (use some of the salvaged dialog) Hugs and kisses…tells her not to forget her pie…and to remember what she told her  (use some of the salvaged dialog)
3 – Jamie is too cold, demands Christopher’s jacket – too large Snickers…saying they know how to warm her up Waiting and watching Tells her she is so hot she doesn’t need it…that he doesn’t mind…but not to be long
4 – Jamie realizes she loves Christopher so much, and that he loves her…she is reluctant to leave him, even for a brief moment Winks in triumph at Candy Waiting and watching Kisses her
5 – Jamie evades Cindy and Calla, not wanting them to know she is slipping away Waiting and watching Watches
6 – Jake suggests Christopher have one last snort before going to bed Irritation, hoping he doesn’t overdo it Giggles…moving in closer Says one more won’t hurt…he can handle this stuff…maybe take some with him when he goes? Kind of doubtful…but goes along Doesn’t want any…ready to go to bed…and the old fool should too

On the third draft, the story finally emerged.  Deciding what to do with all the character notes changed everything.  When I started, I had almost no idea if anything worse than The Bad Thing could happen to Jamie.  I found out there was something much worse to come.  I think this strengthened the story, and made it more interesting.  But, what does the author actually know?

All those character notes stared at me.  I had to do something with them, even if I just erased them.  Going row by row, I looked at each note, looking for a pattern, looking for an order, looking for relationships.  Some characters interacted with each other more than others, so it was easy to combine those lists.  Other characters did not interact much, so I had to decide where and when Jamie would notice what they did or said, and even if it was important to the story.  I was very surprised when Andy emerged as a hero.  Now I know why he insisted on being in the story.  I love him and cannot imagine Whisper without him.

Deciding what to do with the character notes changed the Story Column.  I found things that were wrong, or contradicted something else, or were in the wrong order.  I watched rows split apart, move, change, or die.  New ones were born.  Finally, I moved the character notes into the story notes.  The story rows wiggled around more.  Now, I think the story column fits better now, and is more interesting:

OUTLINE 3 – Scene One:  Purpose – Setup The “Bad” Thing In Scene Two
1 – Jamie is eager to get back and be with Christopher…planning what she is going to do with and to him…decided she is going to tell him about Teddy
2 – Christopher is happy go lucky again…Donks kind of bored and impatient…Carla watches almost with a dread…Candy hangning around…watching Christopher and Jamie…hungry
3 – Everyone discovers Jamie and Christopher are getting ready to leave…Jamie says her good-byes to Jake / Ruth and Andy / Sandy…Andy and Jake sorry to see Christopher go…Jamie is going to the toilet and then will head back to the tent with Christopher
4 – Christopher tells them he will stick around till she gets back…then they will leave…tells her not to take too long
5 – Ruth hugs and kisses Jamie…tells her not to forget her pie…and to remember what she told her…Donks eager to say good-bye but Jamie avoids them…Candy waiting…Jamie evades Cindy and Calla, not wanting them to know she is slipping away
6 – Jamie is too cold, demands Christopher’s jacket – too large…Crhistopher tells her she is so hot she doesn’t need it…that he doesn’t mind…but not to take too long…Donks snicker saying they know how to warm her up
7 – Jamie realizes she loves Christopher so much, and that he loves her…she is reluctant to leave him, even for a brief moment…winks at Candy in triumph as Christopher kisses her
8 – Jake suggests they have one last before to bed…but Andy kind of doubtful…Christopher says one more won’t hurt…he can handle it…maybe take some with him when he goes?…Jamie almost says something but doesn’t want to break the spell
9 – Ruth doesn’t want anything to drink…ready to go to bed…and the old fool (Jake) should too…Candy giggles and movies in closer to Christopher…The Donks are not allowed to drink anything when they suggest they should get some too

Are We Ready To Write Yet?

Am I ready to actually write a draft?  Yes.  Is everything in the outline that needs to be there?  No.

I need to cover everything on the story detail list from Bleeding Eyes and Broken Word Lists.   The lists include things I thought interesting, or didn’t want to forget, or might be needed in the future part.  Some of the following might find their way into the outline, or into one of the drafts.

  1. How does Christopher redeem himself, and be worth everything Jamie has gone through to get
  2. Food
  3. Night sounds – creaking of forest and branches
  4. Temperature – wind – fire
  5. Squirrels – birds – owls – coyote
  6. Moon and stars
  7. Jewelry – bracelets – crucifix – rings – earrings
  8. Smells – smoky fire – fresh air – forest and pine trees – food – white lightning
  9. Dee and  Teddy
  10. Smoking (Jake and Andy)
  11. Ear-buds and smart phones not working in the wilderness (Candy Carla Cindy Calla Donks)
  12. Shadows and reflections
  13. Christopher’s bruised right hand from punching Teddy out
  14. Insects – mosquitoes, flies
  15. Jamie’s purse with long strap
  16. Talking – Jake head of the clan), Andy (mostly laughs), Frank (friendly), Ruth (sweetie), Sandy (honey), Lanny (rabbit hair), Cindy (chatterbox), Calla (quiet), Candy, Carla, Donks

Somewhere in the process of writing, Strong Verbs will become part of Whisper.  I wish they came naturally to me, but they do not.  And I certainly do not want Whisper to die from adverbs.  I use every crutch I can think of.

I am anxious to actually write the end for Whisper.  I wonder how much it will change.  And I have no idea, yet, how many words I will need to finish telling about Jamie’s adventure.  When I post it, I hope I can keep it in one part, but it might break into two parts.  This story has been far more exciting than I expected, and I have learned a lot about myself, and how I might put stories together.  After Thanksgiving, I will steal away, and find moments to write.  Some day, before Christmas, I hope to press UPDATE for the last time, and be amazed if I get anyone to notice.


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