Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making Use of Everything

I am about halfway through the first draft of my chapter book, and so I sat down yesterday to make a rough outline for what has to happen next. At first, it seemed that maybe I didn't have quite enough material to take up another five chapters; the storyline as I originally planned it had maybe three more big scenes that needed to be developed, but three big scenes wouldn't fill up five more chapters.

So I looked again at the first five chapters to see what gifts I had already given myself that could prove to be fertile sources of tension, conflict, suspense, and excitement. I found that every element that had appeared in a random little burst of inspiration as I was writing along was full of possibility. Indeed, I came up with this new principle for writing: every single element in the story has to be used for something.

So: in the first chapter, Kelsey is surreptitiously reading under her desk during math time. The only point of this, when I wrote it, was to establish right away Kelsey's passion for reading (the book is about a schoolwide reading contest). Then, in a later chapter, she's also stealing forbidden moments during math time to read. Even if I DIDN'T need more stuff to flesh out the second half of the book, haven't I set it up so that SOMETHING has to happen here? Such as, Kelsey has to get caught? And get caught in such a way that it won't just be a gratuitous scene of extraneous excitement, but that it will play some important role in the plot? Of course!

And in the first chapter, as soon as the jolly, exuberant principal, Mr. Boone, comes into Kelsey's classroom and plops himself down on Mrs. Molina's desk, I found, as I was writing, that Mrs. Molina didn't care for Mr. Boone's larger-than-life style. As I kept writing, her irritation in his presence continued. So even if I DIDN'T need more stuff to flesh out the second half of the book, don't I need to take the tension between these two and do SOMETHING with it? If I don't, then why is it in the book in the first place? Well, to make the writing sparkly, to make the characterizations vivid, to keep the reader's interest. But it also needs to play some role in the PLOT.

Now that I've figured this out for myself, it seems completely and glaringly obvious. But it wasn't obvious to me until yesterday.

An author needs to make use of EVERYTHING.


  1. You always inspire me, Claudia. And I can't wait to read this book. I love Mr. Boone's larger than life style irritating Mrs. Molina. Love is in the air???

  2. This not only helps me with my plotting problems, but with revision - knowing what I no longer need in the first half, or do need in the second!

  3. I always love learning what goes through the minds of other writers as they develop their stories. It makes me feel like I'm not totally losing mine (mind, that is). I know this new book of yours is going to be as great as the others and I can't wait to read it.