One Bite at a Time
by Kathleen L. Maher
In the Civil War, untried troops had an expression about going off to war. They called it going to see the elephant. A writer confronts the elephant of story with her puny pen, mincing it down to bite sized tasks. It might take a month of Sundays, but if I focus on one task at a time, I can write! And so can you.
I have yet to stare down deadlines, multitask one story in plotting stage whilst market a new release whilst writing yet another. But I fear not this wild herd, because the process is the same. You tackle one elephantine story at a time, cutting each pachyderm into the following steps: Brainstorm. Plot. Outline. Rough draft. Edit. Critique. Edit again. Bite sized chunks.
Brainstorm: In my earliest days of writing, I found forums on agentquery.com where I could submit an idea or two and get really good, honest feedback. Later I discovered ACFW.com, and met my brilliant and invaluable partner Debbie Lynne Costello (sorry, fellow elephant hunters, she’s taken) through their critique groups. Scribes is a terrific resource for a brainstorming and critique partner. As you brainstorm, you must think GMC—goal, motivation, conflict. There is something your character wants more than anything, a reason why he wants it, and a conflict preventing him from getting it. (see http://www.debradixon.com/books/gmc.html)
Plot: Your characters have a journey to take. There are five legs of this journey: Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution. If you have this, you have a basic skeleton of a story. There will be a dark moment when all seems lost, like in Lady and the Tramp where Trusty recovers his sense of smell and races after the dog catcher’s wagon. That awful howl , and him laying in the muddy road. And then there is that heartwarming ending, watching Lady’s puppies frolic and cavort around Jock and Jim Dear and Darling and Tramp and. . . yes, a mellow and doting Trusty, who keeps up with the whippersnappers despite a cast on his leg.
Outline is tying all of this hard work into a cohesive shape, and writing the rough draft adds sensory flesh to the bones. Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Edits involve taking out weasel words, (http://www.examiner.com/article/weasel-words-1 )and adverbs, or adding in a subplot and power verbs. You correct spelling, grammar, watch for homophones. Read it aloud for flow. This is where your critique partner becomes pure gold to you, because everyone has a blind spot. Maybe you have a pet word or phrase. Do a global search to find every usage and cut!
None of these steps sounds hard by themselves, right? That’s because they’re not. It can be done. The most gargantuan task can be accomplished by picking it apart into smaller units. Now go. Eat an elephant.
Meet the Author:
Kathleen L. Maher writes historical romance and is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary. She has a novella Bachelor
Buttons coming out in May through Helping Hands Press, part of a Civil War novella collection. A repeat finalist in several writing contests, she won the 2012 ACFW Genesis with her Civil War historical, Closer than a Brother. Kathleen lives in upstate New York with her husband, three kids and two Newfoundland dogs.
A Civil War Series, Volume 3
A Civil War Romance
The daughter of immigrants who fled the Irish Potato Famine, Rose Meehan longs for a better life than the tenements of New York City. Courted by two men–a young doctor who represents material security, and a poor violin instructor who has captured her heart–she must choose between a life of advantage-grabbing or a life of faith. When Manhattan explodes in mob rule following Lincoln’s unpopular draft, the heroic action of one suitor brings provision for those she loves, and reveals God’s plan.