Monday, December 26, 2011

A Little R & R

The Write Sisters are taking a little vacation this week to relax and to get ready for the year ahead. Have a safe and happy New Year!

Postcard courtesy riptheskull.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Poetry Friday--Everything Old is New Again

I was surprised to find a poem called "The Newest Thing in Christmas Carols" in a book of poetry that was published more than 100 years ago. I guess I thought that the holidays were a little less stressful back then. I was wrong.

The poem is from Christmas: Its Origin, Celebration and Significance As Related in Prose and Verse edited by Robert Haven Schauffler (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1907), a book that was published for use with "children of all ages, in school and at home."
The Newest Thing In Christmas Carols
by Anonymous

God rest you, merry gentlemen!
    May nothing you dismay;
Not even the dyspeptic plats
    Through which you'll eat your way;
Nor yet the heavy Christmas bills
    The season bids you pay;
No, nor the ever tiresome need
    Of being to order gay;

Nor yet the shocking cold you'll catch
    If fog and slush hold sway;
Nor yet the tumbles you must bear
    If frost should win the day;
Nor sleepless nights—they're sure to come—
    When "waits" attune their lay;
Nor pantomimes, whose dreariness
    Might turn macassar gray;
Nor boisterous children, home in heaps,
    And ravenous of play;
Nor yet—in fact, the host of ills
    Which Christmases array.
God rest you, merry gentlemen,
    May none of these dismay!

Except for the clothes, the illustration from the December 17, 1913 issue of Puck magazine could have been recreated at any mall in America on "Black Friday" 2011!

Head over to Dori Reads for this next-to-the-last Poetry Friday Round-Up of 2011. Have a very merry weekend everyone!


Illustration courtesy Library of Congress.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Women of Wednesday--Directors

In 2009, Neda Ulaby, a reporter for NPR's All Things Considered, said, "When women direct, they're in control. And major Hollywood studios cannot exactly bask in their legacies of female empowerment..." This is the explanation of why women directors have had, up to this point, a limited role in directing Hollywood films--a women in power is to be feared. Can this two-year old statement can be applied to the situation today?

It appears not, if Melissa Silverstein is to be believed. She tracks all things related to women and Hollywood on her blog, appropriately titled Women and Hollywood. Silverstein has lists of new and forthcoming films by and about women. Click here and be encouraged by how long the lists are!

One of the major holiday films of 2011, Arthur Christmas, was directed by a woman, Sarah Smith.

Although Smith has been producing and directing television since the 1990s, this is her first major motion picture! I look forward to seeing many more films from her, and other talented women directors, in the future!

[Note: last month I wrote about one of Hollywood's first woman directors, Ida Lupino, check it out if you missed it.]


Monday, December 19, 2011

Mentor Monday--Revisit Project Gutenberg

If you haven't visited the Project Gutenberg site in a while, then stop by soon. They have taken the plunge into providing ebooks for the Kindle reader as well as Android devices. And, as always, you can read the books on a computer. There are now more than 36,000 free titles, with new titles being added daily!

The books are those that have entered the public domain, which means that most were originally published before 1923.

Some people turn up their noses at the idea of reading books published before 1923, but somehow these people forget about all the classics like Jane Austen's works, or those of the Bronte sisters. Tell me you wouldn't be interested in reading Wuthering Heights again!

Project Gutenberg is also a source for items that would be difficult to find in modern libraries, such as memoirs of once famous people. And, if you're researching a time period before 1923, check out some of the then popular magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Young People: An Illustrated Weekly (note: the illustration at the top is from the December 23, 1879 issue), or Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science.

In the September 1864 edition of The Atlantic Monthly I found an article entitled "The Electric Girl of La Perriere." It begins,
Eighteen years ago there occurred in one of the provinces of France a case of an abnormal character, marked by extraordinary phenomena,—-interesting to the scientific, and especially to the medical world. The authentic documents in this case are rare; and though the case itself is often alluded to, its details have never, so far as I know, been reproduced from these documents in an English dress, or presented in trustworthy form to the American public.

The weather, for eight days previous to the fifteenth of January, 1846, had been heavy and tempestuous, with constantly recurring storms of thunder and lightning. The atmosphere was charged with electricity.
It seems a poor prepubescent girl, Angélique Cottin, became endowed with electrical powers after the week of wacky weather. The fascinating story goes on to document the numerous learned and not-so-learned people who attempted to explain the young phenom. For today's reader, it's a look into the way superstition and science existed side-by-side. Fascinating and FREE reading!

If you, as a reader, would like to give back to Project Gutenberg, they are always looking for donations of both money and time. Volunteers are needed for several projects, including proofreading. Learn more here.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Poetry Friday


may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.
Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems,
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
leave home, smell rats, have hunches
does not endear him to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
are the order of things, and where prevails
such wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it. Curiosity
will not cause him to die -
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill,
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have, if they live, a tale
worth telling at all.

Dogs say he loves too much, is irresponsible,
is changeable, marries too many wives,
deserts his children, chills all dinner tables
with tales of his nine lives.
Well, he is lucky. Let him be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth. And what he has to tell
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
and dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that hell is where, to live, they have to go.

Alastair Reid

Curious about other great poetry? Head over to Book Aunt for some wonderful water poetry and more!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Women of Wednesday: Grass Woman - The Other Sacagawea

Most of us know the story of Sacagawea. She has been part of the historical record ever since Lewis and Clark wrote her name down in their journals. I learned about her in elementary school back in the ‘60's, long before inclusion. She was a woman who stood out, even in the days when nobody noticed, let alone wrote about, women or Native Americans. And if we put aside Disney’s version of Pocohontas, she is, for many of us non natives, the first Native American we ever get to know, simply because she was such an integral part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition which is taught in the classroom.

But there was another Sacagawea, a girl who existed before that expedition and after it, a girl we can only imagine. Her real name was Grass Woman, although she was just a little girl. She was Shoshone, and grew up in the mountains between Idaho and Montana and, in the summer, she would have played tag and others games that all children play. In winter, she and her people would trek down into the valleys, searching out grazing land for their horses and wild game for themselves. Grass Woman would have picked berries and learned to sew, to scrape buffalo hides and turn them into clothing. She would have expected to grow up and meet a handsome man and have children of her own, if she even thought that far ahead, because she was, after all, a little girl.

And then, when she was about eleven, a bad thing happened. Another tribe warred against hers. Warriors rushed in on horses. There was yelling and screaming, guns firing, people and horses dying, and then someone whisked her up on a horse and began riding away. A stranger was taking her away from her mother, her father, her siblings and friends. Everything she knew and was vanished in a moment.

The stranger took her east, riding across the plains to places she had never been, and when he put her down in his village, she realized she was not the only one taken away. Many of her friends had been taken, too. That had to have made things less scary, but still, she must have wondered if she’d ever see her family again. She must have spent many nights crying and thinking about escape or rescue.

She lived among the strangers, who may have been Minatarees, and saw some of her friends escape and others sold. But she adapted to the strangers. She learned their language and their ways. Even as an eleven year old, she must have known that was the way to survive - to get along and not make trouble. She may have also been forced into good behavior. And there she was, growing into her teens, making a new life for herself, perhaps still dreaming of returning home some day, when she was suddenly taken for another horse ride, heading east once again, getting further and further away from home, until she reached the Missouri river and the people known as Mandans.

The Mandans stayed put. They farmed and built homes that couldn’t be rolled up and put on a sledge. What might she have been thinking as she stood there in that strange place and saw herself traded for food or guns or cooking pots? Did she give up her idea of ever returning home, or did the hope linger? Did she console herself with the fact that at least the Mandans wouldn’t be moving her further east? And she hadn’t been sold alone. Her friend Otter Woman, about the same age, was sold along with her, and both were purchased by the same man, so neither girl was totally alone.

It was here that Grass Woman was given her new name. The Mandans called her Sacagawea, or Bird Woman, but she was still not a woman. She was probably in her early or mid teens. Did she hate the Mandans for taking away her name, the last thing she had that connected her to home and family? Was she still Grass Woman in her heart, or had she resigned herself to her fate?

Whatever her feelings, she became Sacagawea and learned to farm and speak as the Mandan spoke, until one day, the man who owned her took her and Otter Woman to a new house. Inside, there was a man. A white man. His name was Toussaint Charbonneau and he spoke a strange language. He was a trapper who had come down from the north, from Canada, and had made his home among the Mandan. She and Otter Woman were given to him. It is unclear if she was sold or lost in a gambling game, but it was evident to her that this strange white man was her new master.

She and Otter Woman served Charbonneau, doing all the work that women do, and eventually, he married both of them. Sacagawea once again adapted and learned her new husband’s languages. In the Winter of 1804, when Lewis and Clark arrived, Sacagawea was about eighteen. She was also pregnant.

As soon as Charbonneau heard about the expedition, he applied for the job of interpreter. He told Lewis and Clark about Sacagawea and all the languages she knew. Lewis and Clark didn’t seem to want Charbonneau at all. Sacagawea was the prize, but then, well, she was a woman, a girl, really, and an expedition was no place for a girl. Besides, she was pregnant. Did they really want an infant along?

After much thought, Sacagawea’s skills as an interpreter outweighed her pregnancy, her sex, and her husband. Lewis and Clark agreed to take them all. By the time the expedition got underway in April,1805, Sacagawea was 18-19, and her child was two months old. Was she happy to be going? After being bought and traded and sold and won for seven long years, did she see this as an opportunity to return home, or was she content in her home with Charbonneau? Did she see the expedition as an adventure, or just something else she had no control over?

The expedition set off and Sacagawea led Lewis and Clark across half a continent - a teenage girl with a baby on her hip. And we know from expedition journals that she was considered a valuable member of the expedition because, when she got sick, she wasn’t left to die. Nor did they leave her behind in the care of someone else. Lewis and Clark saw she was nursed back to health so she could go on with them.

And when they finally reached the Shoshone, was Sacagawea happy at last? According to Clark, she expressed immense joy at being back, and her people were just as happy to have her. And yet, she didn’t stay. She continued on to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark, and stared out into the ocean for perhaps the first time in her life

And then she disappeared. Her name is no longer mentioned in historical records.

Legend says she lived a long life, traveling the west, and on one hand, it seems perfectly plausible. She was obviously intelligent and had a knack for languages. And she certainly knew how to adapt. But it also seems that if that’s who she was, we might have heard a bit more about her.

The other side of the coin is that she was a teenage girl who, for seven of perhaps the most formative years of her life, had been constantly uprooted and forced from one life to another. In seven years, she had been captured, sold, bought, possibly won, married, had a child, and crossed half a continent twice. None of it had been her choice. Did it take a toll on her mind at all?

In 1812, one of Charbonneau’s wives died in the Dakota Territory. The record doesn’t tell us which wife it was. If it was Sacagawea, she would have been only 25-26, a sad, much too early ending for anyone.

I like to believe she lived long and happy, and that she looked back with joy not only on her days as Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but also on her days in the mountains when was Grass Woman of the Shoshone.

Monday, December 12, 2011

You Gotta Have Friends: Why They're Important to a Story

Everyone needs a friend, and fictional heroes are no different. Whether you’re writing high fantasy, a rip-roaring adventure, or a quiet contemporary story, your MC and story will be better off for having one.


Because it’s hard to be a hero.

If Harry Potter hadn’t had Ron and Hermione, who would have stopped him from belting Malfoy? And if he had hit Malfoy all those times Malfoy was calling him names, what kind of hero would he have been? In the Hunger Games, the whole premise is to kill or be killed, yet Katniss only kills her competition when her own life is in danger, or to save someone else. She never picks off anyone in their sleep just to cut the competition, because readers don’t want to root for a cold-blooded killer. Even on a YA level, in a story about killing, Katniss’ competition will die at the hands of others or through accidents. Or Peta will do it. That’s what fictional friends are for.

Their job is to make the MC look better, to make sure he stays clean and unsullied, to keep him heroic. They will commiserate with him when he’s upset, cheer him up when he’s feeling down, and inspire him when he’s ready to give up. They will stop him from doing things that go against his better nature, and they will tell the lies, do the killing, or steal the math tests if it needs to be done. Frodo may have been the bearer of the one ring, but he only got to Mordor and destroyed it because of his friend, Samwise Gamgee, who fought the orcs and drove back the spider, who found them food and shelter, and who nursed Frodo back to health when he needed it.

Fictional friends also help your story on a technical level. A hero alone is forced to do a lot of thinking and talking to himself in order to impart information to the reader and advance the plot. That means a lot of introspection, and introspection slows the pacing. A friend also gives your main character someone to interact with, which allows you to show characterization and growth that will make both characters more genuine. You can use the friend to inject humor into a desperate situation, to be a sounding board for a venting hero, or lift the hero’s spirits and inspire him to courageous deeds. And because it’s much easier for two people to get in trouble than it is for one, you can also use the friend to create conflict, tension, and suspense. Without a friend, your hero has to make the story work all on his own which, again, means more introspection and plot stalling.

For instance, consider this opening.

John sat in the waiting room, staring at a magazine, hoping the x-ray didn’t show anything bad. A broken ankle would mean he’d miss the entire track season, and that would mean no chance to show off for the scouts, no chance at a scholarship, and no chance at college or the Olympics. Everything he had worked toward for the last ten years would all go up in smoke. Why did that dumb rock have to be in the road? He sighed. Without college, without track, he’d end up just like Dad, scrounging all his life to just get by.

There really isn’t anything wrong with that, but all it does is impart information. The reader now knows the situation, but nothing else. Now let’s add a friend.

"Do you think you broke it?" Pete asked. He peered at John through a rolled up magazine.

John looked up from his own magazine and grinned. "Playing pirate, are we?"

"No. Just wondering how your entire body fits into this tiny circle. Perspective is weird, isn’t it?"

"I don’t know," John said. "You’re the artist. Not me."

"So did you break it, or what" Pete asked again, rolling the magazine even smaller.

"I don’t know," John said. "I hope not. That would ruin my whole life. If I miss the track season, I miss the scouts and that means no scholarships, no college and no Olympics. It means ten years of my life have gone up in smoke." He tossed his magazine onto a low table. "Dumb rock."

"Yeah, well the rock’s not sitting in a hospital, waiting to see if it’s life is over or not," Pete said.

He was grinning, making joke, but John didn’t find it funny. His life wasn’t like Pete’s. He had to worry about more than perspective. Without college, without track, he’d end up just like Dad, scrounging all his life to just get by.

Both bits impart the same information, but the second example moves quicker (even though it’s longer) and is more interesting to read. It even looks better on the page. All because John has a friend. Now he can talk to someone else instead of himself, and they can react to each other. The dialogue also gives us a bit of insight into each character. John isn’t so upset about the situation that he can’t laugh at his friend’s magazine telescope, and we get to know a bit about Pete - that he’s into art and he’s better off financially than John. I was also able to add a touch of humor and throw in the bit about perspective, which helps create a theme to build the story around. All because I added a friend.

And it isn’t that one way is right and the other is wrong. It’s that one way will do so much more than the other. Do you want to use the phone that allows you to make and receive calls, or do you want to use the one that lets you text, e-mail, and take pictures, too?

Friends are important. They matter, even in fictional worlds. So if your MC doesn’t have a friend in his life, consider giving him one. And if he does have friends, makes sure they are doing more than existing on the page. Put them to work and make them pull their weight - for your hero and your story.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Poetry Friday: Commentary on the present from the past

I'm feeling Ogden Nash-ish this morning:


I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news,
because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

This next poem was published in the Saturday Evening Post, in 1935. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose:


This is a song to celebrate banks,
Because they are full of money and you go into them and all you hear is clinks and clanks,
Or maybe a sound like the wind in the trees on the hills,
Which is the rustling of the thousand dollar bills.

Most bankers dwell in marble halls,
Which they get to dwell in because they encourage deposits and discourage withdrawals,
And particularly because they all observe one rule which woe betides the banker who fails to heed it,
Which is you must never lend any money to anybody unless they don't need it.

I know you, you cautious conservative banks!
If people are worried about their rent it is your duty to deny
them the loan of one nickel, yes, even one copper engraving
of the martyred son of the late Nancy Hanks;

Yes, if they request fifty dollars to pay for a baby you must look at them like Tarzan looking at an uppity ape in the jungle,
And tell them what do they think a bank is, anyhow, they had better go get the money from their wife's aunt or ungle.

But suppose people come in and they have a million and they want another million to pile on top of it,
Why, you brim with the milk of human kindness and you urge them to accept every drop of it,
And you lend them the million so then they have two million and this gives them the idea that they would be better off with four,
So they already have two million as security so you have no hesitation in lending them two more,
And all the vice-presidents nod their heads in rhythm,
And the only question asked is do the borrowers want the
money sent or do they want to take it withm.

Because I think they deserve our appreciation and thanks,
the jackasses who go around saying that health and happiness are everything and money isn't essential,
Because as soon as they have to borrow some unimportant money to maintain their health and happiness they starve to death so they can't go around any more sneering at good old money, which is nothing short of providential.

 Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Robyn Hood at Read, Write, Howl.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Women of Wednesday: Women in the U.S. Military

Molly Pitcher may be legendary, but America's wars have seen many heroic women 

Pearl Harbor Day challenges us to think about the sacrifices of those who choose to serve in the armed services. And while the United States has generally had a military draft during times of war, the women who have served have always been volunteers. A number of veterans have been included in the pages of the Notable Women series. Here are a few more.

Most New Englanders are familiar with the story of DeborahSamson, the woman from Massachusetts who dressed as a boy so she could go fight against the British in 1782 (Cornwallis had surrendered in October 1781 but the Treaty of Paris wasn’t signed until 1783).  Less well known is  Margaret Corbin, who became a “camp follower” when her husband joined the Continental Army, cooking and washing and tending the wounded. Margaret also worked with the gunnery team, and when both the gunner and John were killed in battle at Fort Washington, New York, Margaret stepped in, loading and firing the cannon until British grapeshot found her, as well. Captured along with the other Colonials when the fort fell, she became the first woman included in the active duty muster lists.

America’s next armed conflict, the War of 1812, perhaps saw Lucy Brewer dress in men’s clothing to join the Marine Corps, fighting on the USS Constitution. The Civil War saw the first official establishment of an Army Nursing Corps, as well as the heroic efforts of a number of women who served as couriers and spies. Dr. Mary Walker and Clara Barton are probably the best-known women veterans of the Civil War, although it is estimated at least 80 women (many in disguise) died on battlefields during that conflict.

The Spanish-American brought saw both the first official recruiting of women, as Army Nurses, although they were not considered military personnel. Among the 1500 women who served during that conflict was the first to die in a foreign land, Ellen May Tower. Her 1898 funeral in Michigan was the first military funeral for an American woman.

By the time the War to End All Wars convulsed the opening years of the 20th century, the military establishment had begun to warm to the possibility of women serving in non-combat roles. The Army repeatedly requested permission from the War Department to enlist women for clerical and support roles but never received an official approval. Women did serve in the Army as Nurses and in the Signal Corps – an elite group of 300 women, bilingual (French/English) long-distance telephone operators. The Navy and Marine Corps apparently decided not to wait for permission and enlisted 13,000 women with the same ranks and status as male recruits, who took non-combat positions in order to free up men for combat roles.

December 7, 1941, saw the heroic efforts of women nurses in the Army and Navy hospitals at Pearl Harbor, including Lt. Anne G. Fox, who received a Purple Heart for her outstanding service (later replaced with a bronze star when the Purple Heart was redefined as a medal awarded for combat injuries. The Coast Guard was the first branch of the military to accept women into the regular ranks, establishing the SPARS, both enlisted and commissioned, who filled the on-shore positions (including critical surveillance roles) while male yeomen were deployed at sea. Ironically the 1948 act (championed by General Eisenhower) which integrated women into all branches of the military, did not include the Coast Guard, which was not officially integrated until 1973. Army, Navy and Marine Corps nurses served in both the European and Asian theaters in the later years of the war, while thousands of military women worked in stateside jobs. Another often overlooked role of women in World War II were the aviators of the WASPs – more than 1000 women pilots who flew military planes to destination bases and in training missions. They were, however, considered civilian employees and the 38 who died in the service of their country were denied military honors. (Today 20% of the United States Air Force are women.)

Korea and Vietnam were, of course, conflicts marked by deep divisions among Americans over the missions and the ways they were carried out. Without the broad support on the home front, they were wars fought mostly by draftees, but of course all the women in the field hospitals and MASH units and support outfits were volunteers. Over 100,000 women served during Korea and more than a quarter million during Vietnam. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial   was finally dedicated in 1993.

Desert Storm saw the largest deployment of women troops in American history to that time, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have seen four times as many women “in harm’s way.” More than 15% of the active duty force of today’s American military are women. Women are still, technically, not permitted to serve in combat units, despite the fact that the reality of the two wars we are currently fighting is that members of “support” units are frequently engaged in volatile locations filled with snipers and IEDs, while more and more of the “combat” is being carried out electronically, often from remote locations like Colorado Springs.

 While many of us would rather look for alternatives to warfare, let us not overlook or ignore the brave service of so many of our sisters and fore-mothers who were willing to put aside comfort and risk life and limb for the country they loved.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mentor Monday: Revising, Part 1

I have a motto I often share with new writers: Real writers are rewriters. Real writers know that first drafts are just that – drafts. They are brain dumps, capturing all kinds of ideas, plot devices, images, and lots and lots and lots of words. They are the lump of clay out of which you will fashion your work of art. There’s still a lot of molding, shaping, smoothing and polishing to be done before your work is ready to be read by an editor – who will then, if she likes it enough to consider buying it, have lots of additional work she wants you to do on it!

Over my next few Mentor Monday posts we’ll look at this Revision process, which breaks down into Rewriting, Editing and finally Proofreading or Copy-editing. Although in reality you will automatically do a little bit of the later steps at the same time as the earlier ones, it is helpful to think about each distinct piece of the process.

Of these, rewriting is the most dramatic. Remember that the word “Revision” means “seeing again.” This is when you massage and reshape the lump of clay that is your first draft. Don’t be afraid to consider major changes at this point. (If it helps you to be fearless, save a copy of your original in another folder.) If your story is told in the first person, try re-writing part of it in the third person, or vice versa. What would happen if your main character were a boy instead of a girl? If your story took place in the 1950s instead of the 1970s? (If your setting doesn’t really matter at all to the story, this may be a flag indicating a problem!)

Think about your story the way a teacher preparing a lesson plan would. What is the theme? (Please be sure your story has a theme but not a “lesson.”) Who are the main characters and what are their motivations? What is the conflict, and how is it resolved? (Make sure your protagonist solves the problem!) What are the relationships between the different characters? A common problem is having too many minor characters – considering combining some of the roles.

Keep in mind that although I’m referring to “story,” “plot” and “character,” the techniques of the revising process apply to non-fiction as well. You won’t be free to manipulate the chronology or the genders of the people, but you still shape the narrative, choosing what details to include, and managing the flow of your work.

Map the plot and subplots, and examine them carefully. Is the story balanced? Does the action rise and fall, gradually reaching a peak, or are there long flat places that need breaking up? Watch out for extended passages of narrative without dialogue – or pages of dialogue with no action. If your work is a picture book, be sure you can identify enough different “scenes” for an illustrator, and see how the text breaks out over them: you don’t want to create a few text-heavy pages while the rest of the book flips past quickly.

Keep an eye out for missing pieces and loose ends. Remember the old bit about if there is a gun on the table in the first act, it had better be fired before the play is over? The opposite is also true: if you need a gun in your climactic scene, you have to introduce it early, and make sure we know that the character who is going to fire it actually knows how. Often we don’t know in the beginning all the details that are going to develop as the story progresses, so it is very common in later drafts to go back and insert objects, skill sets and even whole characters into appropriate places (sometimes this means writing a new chapter to create the place).

Think about the structure and flow of your story. How much time passes between the opening and the conclusion? Are there markers entwined in the narrative that show this to the reader? These can be as straightforward as “On Tuesday, Janie overslept” or as subtle as “his boot crunched through the ice on the puddle.” Is the length of time covered by the story appropriate and necessary? Should you start the narrative closer to the climax? Or, if you do need some bits that occur a long time before the climax should you build in some “jump forward” transitions to get you more quickly toward the point? Don’t forget that it’s important to wrap up and get out quickly after the climax, or you’ll leave your readers feeling let down.

Consider the possibility of “re-stringing” your story. Think of each scene as a bead which you have strung together along your plot. Would things flow better if some of the beads were in a different order? Might you put a “brightly colored” or “loud” scene next to a quieter one, to heighten the effect of each? Or do you need to move a goofy scene to a different location so it doesn’t alter the somber mood of a particular passage?

Don’t overlook the value of distance in this process. Put the whole manuscript into a drawer and don’t look at it for a week. When you read it again you’ll notice all kinds of things that you skimmed over before, when it was all so fresh in your mind. Distance also makes it easier to identify (and eliminate) those precious but unhelpful words, phrases and scenes that all of us seem to create and cling to in our early drafts. But that’s a subject for another post.