Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?” Job 38:22-23

So begins Chapter 1, Scene 2 in Crucible of War. The verse is quoted by Jeremiah Wainwright, the Quaker owner of the inn where Elizabeth, Tess, and Blue Sky wait out the anxious hours while Carleton and Andrews cross the Delaware River with Washington on Christmas night to make a daring attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton.

A violent nor’easter batters the region that night, while the army battles ice floes and the river’s swift current amid driving snow, sleet, and gale-force winds. Contemporary accounts tell of the ill-clothed and equipped men leaving bloody tracks in the snow from feet bound with rags, strips of leather, or nothing at all. Amazingly, several soldiers froze to death while waiting for transport across the river. And yet they persisted.

After much travail, the soldiers reached the New Jersey shore only to face a nine-mile march to Trenton through a storm that seemed to get worse by the minute. By the time they approached the village, much of their powder was wet, rendering many of the men’s muskets useless. Receiving this report, Washington ordered a bayonet charge—in spite of the fact that the Continentals had few bayonets among them. Still they went forward . . . and won an unlikely victory that changed the course of the Revolution.

On this Thanksgiving Day, while delicious aromas fill the house, and all is light and warmth inside, while outside a grey, rainy evening gathers, I think of those who through the years have sacrificed so much to preserve the blessings of peace and freedom we enjoy, but too often take for granted. And I think, too, of those in foreign lands, such as Sayed Mossa, Asia Noreen, and Aung San Suu Kyi who suffer imprisonment, abuse, and the threat of death because they dare to believe in our Savior Jesus Christ. Yet they speak out boldly for Truth.

May we never forget the price that has been paid for our freedom—both physical and spiritual. May those sacrifices be abundantly blessed and rewarded in heaven, if not on earth. This day I am mindful that we have a God who metes out both justice and mercy and who never forgets the blood shed by the saints. May He be greatly praised!

I hope you a most blessed and joyful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plotting

After creating a preliminary list of my characters’ inner and outer quests, I decided that a simple breakdown of each act would be the most useful. Making this too detailed would waste time since plots tend to morph quite a bit as the story develops. So I stuck to a brief outline that includes the inciting incident that sends the characters on their quest in Act 1, the main crisis points in Act 2, and the denouement and setup for the next volume in Act 3. Here, with the spoilers removed, is a very rough plot breakdown for Crucible of War.

Act 1: Beginning the Quest

  • Battle of Trenton and return to camp.
  • Encounters between Carleton and Elizabeth, Andrews and Blue Sky
Act 2: Crisis Points
1. Battle of Princeton
  • Elizabeth returns to New York.
  • Washington and army block British at Princeton, then withdraw to Morristown.
2. Build-up to New Campaign
New York
  • Elizabeth and Tess renew relationship with Howe and his officers.
  • Pieter returns to NY to court Elizabeth.
Morristown
  • Reconstituting the army and planning campaign 1777.
  • Carleton rebuilds his Rangers from renegades.
  • Red Fox and/or Spotted Pony return to the Shawnee to seek reinforcements.
  • Carleton decides to refit several of his merchantmen in France as warships to engage in the naval war.
New York
  • Complications with Pieter and Howe.
  • Elizabeth carries intelligence to Congress, meeting with John Adams and others.
  • Progress of negotiations with France and Spain.
3. 1st Crisis and Turning Point
  • Pieter learns the truth.
4. 2nd Turning Point—Campaign 1777
  • Red Fox and/or Spotted Pony return to Morristown with a mixed party from the tribes.
  • Battles of Bennington, Brandywine, Germantown.
  • Elizabeth’s covert activities increasingly put her in danger.
  • Elizabeth learns her parents and Abby are returning to Boston.
5. Main Crisis and Turning Point—Saratoga
  • Carleton and his Rangers join General Gates at Saratoga.
  • Americans defeat Burgoyne, ending the British quest to split the colonies along the Hudson.
Act 3—Denouement
  • Tess leaves for Boston to prepare for the Howards’ return.
  • Howe prepares to move against Philadelphia.
  • Andrews and Blue Sky face a painful decision
  • Carleton and Elizabeth take leave of each other and Elizabeth returns to NY.
  • Setup for vol. 5.
As you can see, this is very sketchy, but for now I don’t want anything more detailed. All I need is something to help me keep the overall sequence of events straight. BTW, I did remove a number of important details in order to avoid spilling some major plot points, especially the ending. For now you’ll just have to guess what those might be! All I can say is that they involve Carleton and Elizabeth’s relationship and also Andrews and Blue Sky. There are yet more major changes in their lives coming up.

Right now I’m focusing on getting all my notes and existing scenes in correct chronological order. Things are kinda scattered, and it’ll be a lot easier to move forward after I sort everything out. Once that’s done, I’ll start fleshing out the sections of notes into full-fledged scenes and create transitions. I can’t wait until I have the rough draft finished! This process is like trying to extract your brain through a pinhole in your forehead with tweezers! For me the real fun begins when I have something I can edit. But it’s going to be a while yet before I get to that point, so I’d better get to it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Quest

A couple of weeks ago while I was struggling, yet again, to get a real handle on Crucible of War, I realized that my problem was plotting the story. I have a collection of scenes and notes, but weaving them together into a coherent whole wasn’t happening. I’ve lived with my characters long enough now that I know their souls quite well, though, of course, as is true with real people, they still surprise me from time to time. That’s what keeps things interesting. At this point in the series, however, the overarching story has become too complex for me to do my usual seat-of-the-pants plotting as I write each volume.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was nothing for it except to buckle down and—gasp—outline the plot! Although I generally resist being that organized, obviously I wasn’t going to make much progress until I did. Sooo I took the plunge. First I decided it would help tremendously to have the main characters’ inner and outer quests up at the top of the document where I can easily refer to them as I develop each act. It helped that I’d already outlined the specific goals, motivation, and conflict for each main character in this volume as well as for the book, which made this part a relative piece of cake. Here’s what I ended up with.

  • General George Washington
    outer quest—keep his army together and strike a decisive blow against the British.
    inner quest—to earn the respect of friends and foes alike, to protect his reputation, and to return in triumph to the peaceful life of a Virginia planter.
  • General William Howe
    outer quest—wear the Americans down through a series of blows that will finally force them to surrender.
    inner quest—build his reputation and maintain his position, all while indulging in gambling and the charms of his mistress as much as possible.
  • Jonathan Carleton/White Eagle
    outer quest—to define his identity as Shawnee warrior/white officer, to help the Americans win independence, and to successfully advocate for his people .
    inner quest: to build a life with Elizabeth, to finally learn to trust her completely, to come to know the depths of her soul.
  • Elizabeth Howard
    outer quest—to overcome Howe, defeat Britain, and help gain independence for the Americans.
    inner quest—to build a life with Carleton, to nurture his soul and heal his deepest wounds.
  • Charles Andrews/Golden Elk
    outer quest—to help the Americans gain independence, and then go home to his adoptive people in peace.
    inner quest—to become a true Shawnee husband to Blue Sky, father to their children, and member of the tribe.

It’s a beginning. I’ll refine this and make it more specific to this volume as I develop the story. In my next post, I’ll go into the actual plot outline, which I’ve organized in 3 acts.