Monday, July 14, 2014

Building the Fieldstone house, Story by Story

What is a novel but a series of stories linked by a central theme, plot and characters? When asked are you a plotter or a pantster I used to confess to being a pantster, but it’s not that simple.

Remember the days of writing a novel without a computer? Lewis Grizzard, former columnist and comic memoirist of Don’t Bend Over in the Garden Granny Them Tatters Got Eyes taught me a clever way to cut and hand paste: tape and scissors, primitive but effective. Grizzard used a long refectory table pushed against a wall in his office to lay out his chapters in order. I had to use my king sized bed. Nowadays that takes three seconds. Sigh. We were a determined bunch back then, so much typing, so little time.

So, where does the fieldstone house come in? Think of your chapters or scenes as rough stones gathered in the fields of your imagination. When you’re inspired, write them down, even if they haven’t been foreshadowed or worked through. Once you’ve done a quick overall edit of your WIP, go to the beginning and search for the keyword that inspired you—usually while driving or sleeping. Find it and insert the scene.

When you do your penultimate edit, determine if the brilliant fieldstone flashing at you from the past fits where you have it now. If not, move it to a more appropriate place or drop it onto the very last page to save for another time—maybe for another book. Gems/inspirations, must never be lost, but never misused either.

I think of these gems as fieldstones. They’re all of a piece, but can stand alone or in the POV of one of the characters thinking or speaking.

Here’s a short example from my WIP: Cinderella Sister

Main character, 17-year-old Sissie has been her older sister’s best friend, bone marrow donor and ignored sibling all her life. Her sister dies after years of struggle.

Sissie is in a bereavement group with other teens. Their wise counselor sees a change in the girl as she processes her grief and her new position in the family: the anger the counselor had hoped for emerges: Cinderella is angry.

Later that day the counselor makes an opportunity to talk with Sissie in private. Neither she nor this this writer knew what the counselor (Her POV) might say. I put myself in the counselor’s shoes and went for it:

We walked over to the campfire, now cold and smelling woody, and sat on the bench side by side.

“You asked an interesting question in group today,” I began, not knowing how I was ever going to get this into one teen’s ears. “I thought we should explore it. You asked what the point was, why would your mother allow your sister and you to suffer if the cancer treatments might not work? This would be a hard question for your mom to answer for one so young as you were then, but maybe I can help you understand now.

“We see license plates and bumper stickers that say in big letters CHOOSE LIFE. Did it occur to you that those words are not just about abortions and euthanasia?"

“They're not?”

“Every old person you ask about life choices will tell you to choose life. Where there is life there is hope. For your mother, she chose life, yours and Simila’s, because she wanted both of you to be her children. She knew the best life her children was for her not to marry a man she didn’t love just to have babies. She also didn’t want to select a man at random and face him with the fact he was only a stud and to get lost. She’d be taking a chance on not only hurting him, but setting herself and you up for a legal battle. She wanted a planned family for which she would be responsible. She got her parents and brothers on board and went for in vitro.

“Right before you were born, she discovered there could be a flaw in her carefully orchestrated decision. Simila’s illness would require a lot of time, money and energy. You wouldn't get the attention from her that you should have. But once again, she chose life. She continued with her pregnancy and you came out the delightful girl we all know and love. Following that she had many more choices to make.

"She’d maneuvered herself into an endless cycle. Realizing you two could have been raised in a normal two-person household with a Mom and Dad, one that didn’t have a predisposition to cancer, she felt, rightly or wrongly, that she must do everything in her power to help Simila live. That kind of decision is progressive, like buying a warranty and renewing it over and over. She must have suffered watching you growing up normal and relatively uncomplicated despite her frequent distractions while Simila struggled, and yes, suffered. She didn’t do this to either of you, it happened to you both. It’s made you a better person, more compassionate and empathetic. That’s the up side. The down side is that it developed in you this hyper responsible, hyper vigilant, guilty soul.

“These are good traits, but learned too soon as circumstances dictated. Your mother got onto life’s merry-go-round and couldn’t get off, nor did she want to. The longer Simila survived, the better the chance she’d get 'the cure' . Sissie you were not the cure, you were the extension cord to the cure. Two years after Simila’s death, there is still no cure. That has to be heartbreaking for your mother and you.”

Sissie’s shoulders fell, and her eyes rimmed with tears long held back. She fell into my arms. I sat on the bench holding her and weeping with her… While I helped Sissie forgive herself and her mother, I began to get let go of my guilt. I was starting to forgive myself.

The Choose Life theme came to me as a gift from the Muse. That fieldstone mined from blips in imagination and recorded without over thinking might not have fit in my WIP. But it did.

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Twitter: @JulieEPainter
Julie is a regular blogger on , and feature writer for!issue-14 an online slick. Her flash fiction appears under
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