Scope – my fave word du jour

Today, my favorite word is scope. Not in terms of oral hygiene products, and not about lenses (as in telescope & microscope).

I am referring to a meaning that is probably less interesting to most people.

Less interesting than mouthwash or microscopes? You may be thinking, “I might not finish reading this one.”

“Chasing rabbits” is what weary attenders of meetings hope a printed agenda will prevent, because nobody likes long meetings that waste time. The agenda is designed to keep everyone who’s in the conference room on task and remembering what the meeting is supposed to accomplish. That’s scope – deciding what something encompasses and what it doesn’t encompass.

Scope today has me picturing a giant jigsaw puzzle.

What’s the first thing most people do when starting to work a jigsaw puzzle? You’re right. They go for the border. The border tells you how big the puzzle is going to be (which is important if it ends up being wider than your card table), and it gets you started, both spatially and with color cues, in knowing what areas of the picture go where.

I’ve been piecing together the borders of 20 puzzles, each puzzle having about 4,000 pieces. The “pieces” are words, and the “puzzles” are chapters. If you think creating an end product of 80,000 words sounds scary, then you can see why I really need scope to define what does and doesn’t go inside each chapter.

Take chapter three, for example.

This morning I spent more than an hour at my frequent breakfast haunt, Panera Bread, organizing some 30 strips of paper into what will be chapter three of The Wrong Type of Love, my second novel manuscript. The first thing I did was to review which basic phases of action would make up the chapter. (Scope.) Then, it was relatively quick to read the snippet of plot or dialog on each strip of paper and place it in one of four stacks – which pushed my coffee and my “pumpkin muffie” to the opposite side of the table. But, I’ll be honest with you. In these days of frenzied writing it’s not about the food and drink nearly as much as it is about the time, place, atmosphere, and opportunity. Thank you, Panera!

I told my husband that this book feels like a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and every day I am getting maybe three or four pieces into place. He said, “Yes, dear.” (I jest in part; the truth is he supports me 100% in this.) Writing a novel is a long process that takes dedication, and organizationally it is requiring all of the skill I have developed since making A’s in grade-school English. What a stimulating challenge to map out the chapters, to decide tentatively what the scope of each chapter is, and eventually to make each scenario exactly what I need it to be, one word at a time. Ultimately, if something can’t land inside the established border, it doesn’t get to be in the puzzle.

It took me six months (July to December of last year) to know the characters and the plot details for this sequel to my first fiction manuscript, Bend in the High Road. I added notes constantly, making up names and life situations, realizing that if my bride has bridesmaids, then those bridesmaids must have names and some kind of relationship with her. If “Raymond” has a gift for sharing his faith in Jesus in an enviable, natural way, then Raymond needs to make a memorable appearance in the home of his new friend, Lee, and the members of Lee’s household who might be described as “nominal Christians” need to hear one or two things said by Raymond that get their attention in a life-changing way.

Now that I know who everyone is and what’s going to happen to them – six months in the making, remember – the fun part has started, and it is truly the most fun I’ve ever had as a creative writer. My goal is to have chapters three and four written by February 1 and the whole manuscript ready to submit by summer or early fall. As a rolling snowball gets bigger and bigger, my joy in the opportunity to write a second work of Christian fiction grows and grows!

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