Showing posts with label graphic organizers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label graphic organizers. Show all posts

16 December 2013

I, A, B, II, A, (1) (2) (a),(b) B


by Fran Rizer


If you've heard this before, and some of you have, now's the time to go for another cup of coffee. Please come back with it because before this ends I'm going to tell you how and why I used an outline for the first time when writing a book.

Last year, my grandson's language arts teacher told the class, "All writers plan their works with graphic organizers or outlines."

Aeden's hand shot up and he responded, "Not all of them."

"Yes, real writers do."

"But my G-Mama doesn't."

To shorten this story, the class wound up Googling me to satisfy the teacher that Aeden's grandmother really does write professionally.  
Grandson is now
a teenager.

Aeden insisted that I don't use organizers and outlines, but the teacher still made the students all use the graphic organizer sheet she'd printed.

My classroom days are over, and I agree some of the forms used in classes no doubt help develop better student writers.  Some of them address plot; some, characterization; some, setting; some, literary devices; some, other topics ad nauseam.  



Frequently the forms are cute and most kids like cute much better than the old outline form with its capital letters, lower case letters, Roman and Arabic numerals that was used when I was in elementary school. 

In my personal opinion, a lot of what's being used is too restrictive, even for students. Aeden's accelerated LA instructor this year sometimes uses forms requiring the writers to use a metaphor in the first paragraph, onomatopoeia in the second, direct quotations in the third, and on and on and on.

So where am I headed with all this?  I haven't used an outline or, heaven forbid, a mimeographed graphic organizer sheet since I was a kid... until this year!


I started the first Callie book with a nursery rhyme, stuck a casket in it, and produced a title.  (A Tisket, a Tasket, A FANCY STOLEN CASKET)  I then thought of an ending. I wanted to have the protagonist wind up locked in a casket, and I actually wrote the climatic chapter first.  After that, it was easy to start from the beginning and write until I reached the ending.

That pattern worked for the next four books, but the sixth required me to actually have a plan, an outline of sorts.

This time, the idea wasn't a nursery rhyme, but a song--"The Twelve Days of Christmas."  The full title naturally was On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me A CASKET UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE.  I wanted to relate it to the song, so I Googled and printed out the traditional words. That led to wanting to sing it, so my sons and grandson began making up lines that fit the melody but were related to mystery or crime or the South.  I decided to use them as chapter headings.  We came up with twelve presents to use. Here they are:

Everyone knows the pattern.  It begins with the first verse:
On the first day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
A corpse under the Christmas tree.
The second verse is:
On the second day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
Two broken hearts,
And a corpse under the Christmas tree
Each additional verse adds a new present and then repeats all the previous gifts.  At the end, it goes like this:
 On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Twelve eggs a’nogging
 Eleven axes grinding,
        Ten turkeys trotting,
        Nine guns a’smoking,
        Eight collards cooking,
        Seven doggies howling,
        Six tongues a’wagging,
        Five stolen rings,
        Four falling flakes,
        Three red wreaths,
        Two broken hearts,
        And a corpse under the Christmas tree                                                     
I had an outline--not with all those letters and numbers, but a plan. I decided each chapter should be twenty to twenty-five pages to make twelve chapters add up to novel length. Later I added recipes for my friends who laugh at recipes and knitting patterns in cozies and also because my agent likes for the Callie books to run between 80,000 and 85,000 words.

Next task:  Develop an overall plot using chapters appropriate to their titles.  I confess it took some thought, but I managed it and made one-line notes for each chapter. Then I wrote A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree.  I can now say I've written a book essentially from an outline.

Currently I'm not working on a Callie, and I've reverted back to my favorite kind of writing.  I call it "falling into the page."  Stephen King describes it this way:



Until we meet again, take care of ...you!