Friday, November 20, 2009

Chapter 20: To Outline or Not to Outline?

Word Count: 31,047/50,000

Oh, Reader, I swear I started this post before 12:15 in the morning. Unfortunately, my comp went berserk and I had to start over.

I have never been a fan of outlining, ever since elementary school. We were always required to do it, so my trick to avoiding it was telling the teacher I wasn't finished yet, write my story without it, and THEN write the outline, making it look like I'd followed it very closely. I feel that while outlining can give you the confidence of having some sort of structure, it can sometimes act as a corset, forcing your story to bend and curve in places that seemed like a good idea at first, but not giving you the freedom to breathe and experiment as your story goes on. Don't get me wrong- I do not scoff at those that outline. In fact, I admire their discipline. But I like the spontaneity of writing with as little outline as possible because sometimes, my characters take me to unexpected and wonderful places that I would never have gotten to with an outline in front of me.

With this year's NaNo, I started with the vague outline of an idea, but I gave myself permission to throw it all out the window if I felt it was necessary... and so far, though some parts have stuck to the letter, others have changed radically. The torture, for example, was something I would never have expected to show up- it's certainly nothing I've ever composed before- but it fits. And the part I just wrote a few minutes ago. In the very beginning of the story, one of Ruthie's schoolmates and his brother go missing. I was still waffling back and forth about whether I wanted them to live or die. Near the very end of the novel, there's a form of happy ending (with a touch of hopeful romance) and I couldn't decide if I wanted to sprinkle some more sugar over an already cheerful ending or if I wanted to hit the audience with reality.
This morning, as I was *ahem* writing in Sociology, the missing boys' mother decided to pay Ruthie a call. I didn't know what was going to happen. Ruthie was very hopeful- she knew that because the mother was at their door and thanking her for her brave efforts, the boys were alive. She began planning a celebration. But then, Mrs. Henderson opened her mouth, the boys were confirmed dead and her world fell apart. None of that was planned, but I'm really liking how it's turning out, and it's comforting to know how my story will end- now I have a solid point to work towards.

And now, let me show you the point:

Ruthie was reading in her room when she heard a distant knock on the door.
“I’ll get it!” she heard Noah shout from downstairs. His feet pounded through the hallway and she heard the door open. A few seconds later, Noah called, “Ruthie! It’s for you!”
Wondering who it could be, Ruthie laid down her book and went downstairs. When she saw who was at the door, she froze on the bottom step.
“Mrs. Henderson?” she asked. She wasn’t even sure if it was Jimmy’s mother, as she had not seen her for several years. But the woman nodded. “Oh!” Ruthie exclaimed. “Come in, please,” she said, pulling Noah back to allow Mrs. Henderson to enter the house.
“Is everything all right?” she asked, taking note of the expression on the woman’s face.
“Oh… yes,” Mrs. Henderson said, fiddling with the clasp on her purse. “I just wanted to – might we sit down?”
Ruthie shut the door. “Oh, of course. Noah, run along upstairs while -”
“Oh, no, please let him stay. He can hear what I’ve got say. In fact, I think he should.”
Ruthie suddenly got very excited, because she knew all at once what Mrs. Henderson was going to say. Jimmy and Arthur had been found at last! She hurried her brother and Mrs. Henderson into the front room and rushed into the kitchen to prepare some tea. Maybe she would bring out some of Mum’s biscuits will jam in the center to celebrate once Jimmy’s mother told them the news.
Once they were all settled in the family room, tea on the table, Mrs. Henderson spoke. “I just wanted to say thank you, Ruthie, for all you have done in the way of searching for Jimmy and Arthur. I know you looked for them and that part of the reason you went into the terrible house was because of my sons.”
“It was no trouble. I was worried, and I wanted to help,” Ruthie said shyly, looking into her tea. Mrs. Henderson’s hand fell over hers and Ruthie looked up at the woman.
“I have… heard some things about what went on their, Ruthie. Horrible things…” She hesitated. “Is it true that they… tortured you?”
Ruthie nodded, looking at the ground. She wanted to talk to Mrs. Henderson, but not about that. She hoped she wouldn’t ask Ruthie for more details; she still got nightmares about those days. Her eyes fell on her healing fingers, which were still tinged with blue and purple. But Mrs. Henderson didn’t press the subject any further. She just clutched her tea cup and shook her head in veneration. “You are just the bravest girl.”
To avoid the self – conscious feeling that was creeping over her, Ruthie said, “Have the police gotten any leads about Jimmy from the House kids?”
Mrs. Henderson paused before nodding.
“Well, that’s wonderful!” Ruthie exclaimed. “When will they start their investigation? Maybe we could get the Blitzers to help them for an allowance. How strong are the leads?” She stopped when she saw Mrs. Henderson’s face. The woman’s eyes were filled with tears and her lips were pressed together.
“Oh, no,” Ruthie said, dread washing over her. Suddenly, she realised that she had assessed the situation completely wrong. Mrs. Henderson had not come to tell the Halperts about the finding of her sons, she had come to tell them – “Please no.”
But Mrs. Henderson’s falling tears confirmed her fears and she knew it was true. Jimmy and Arthur Henderson were dead. She felt tears fill her own eyes as the finality sunk in.
She heard a sniff beside her and remembered that this news affected Noah, too. But before she could make a move to comfort him, he had slipped his small hand into hers and squeezed. She had never been more thankful to have a little brother, and she held his hand tightly.When Mrs. Henderson stood to take her leave, Ruthie and Noah accompanied her to the door.
“Thank you so much again for everything,” Mrs. Henderson said. She leaned down and kissed Ruthie’s cheek. Ruthie watched her as she walked down the street and turned the corner toward her home. Once she was out of sight, Ruthie closed the door and looked around. Noah was nowhere to be found, so Ruthie went back upstairs to her room. She picked up her book again, but try as she might, she couldn’t seem to get back into the story. Her gaze strayed out the window, at the sunshine that didn’t seem to coincide with the news she had just gotten.
A knock on her bedroom door took her out of her thoughts and she turned to see Noah peering at her through a crack. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” she asked. Noah continued to look at her. “Come in,” she insisted, and her brother came into the room. He looked troubled standing in the middle of her floor. She moved over in the chair and patted the seat. “Come sit with me.”
He did. It was a tight squeeze, but somehow, they both managed to fit in the chair. Noah was too big now to hold in her lap, so she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. They sat like that in silence for a few minutes and Ruthie was beginning to wonder if what she had been dreading wasn’t going to happen, but then Noah finally spoke up.
“Are they really gone?”
This was exactly the conversation Ruthie had been hoping she was not going to be asked to have. Why did Noah have to choose her to pose these questions to? She was the worst possible choice. She was fifteen. She had experienced so little of life. This was her first experience with this, too. And she was just as confused as Noah was. Who was she to answer his questions?
She wished she could say all this to him, but looking down into her brother’s expectant face, she saw how full it was of hope and trust. He was begging her, pleading with her, to give him something concrete. She would have to do the best she could, for his sake.
“Yes, sweetie,” she said in response to his question. “They’re really gone.”
Noah paused as he took this in, and Ruthie hoped that was it. But he was nine and full of questions, and she saw another one forming in his eyes. “What happens when you die?”
Though her answer was the same one she would have given him a year, a month, a day, or even an hour before was the same, the inflection behind it was new. “I don’t know.”
She wished she did. She wished she could tell her brother that angels waited at the pearly gates to lead to you to an eternity of happiness and joy. That any sorrow was unleashed upon people on earth in the form of rain as he had been told, that thunder was God stomping his feet over their heads – in anger or exaltation, it was never revealed. She wished she knew for certain if there was a God. They went to church, certainly - they sang, they prayed, they knelt and asked for forgiveness for their sins, but she could only hope that there really was a Him – bearded, mustached, and dressed in a white robe, in her imagination – sitting in some sort of throne beyond those shining doorways, waiting to welcome his children to the Kingdom of Heaven. She wished she could tell him that Jimmy and Arthur were right now feasting with the past kings and queens of England, not missing their lives at all because they were having such a wonderful time.
She could say this if she wanted to. She could tell him that all these uncertainties were fact. She could, but she did not. Because right now, in this moment, she too was nine years old and scared and wishing that someone would tell her that it was all true so she could stop wondering herself. Wondering if the planes had been flying a different course, it would be Jimmy and Arthur sitting in Jimmy’s desk chair like this, him trying to try not to look as scared as he felt, to be brave, for his little brother’s sake, as he thought about Ruthie and Noah’s fates. If she knew for certain, maybe she wouldn’t feel so sad.
“I don’t know,” she said again.
She expected more questions, but none came. So they sat in silence, slightly uncomfortable in the chair but neither one complaining. To have someone you loved too close was preferable to having them irretrievably far away.

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