The Swamp: Finding the Magic and Crafting the Mystery

My cousin and I sometimes get ourselves into sticky situations.  One Christmas, we were enchanted by the idea of the ice covered swamp—a place which happened to be off-limits.  Walking our small dog down the dark road made the journey even more dazzling; it was the anticipation of what might happen that kept us shivering, whooping, buzzing with excitement.  So when the dog backed out of his collar and took off into the snowy woods we could think of nothing to do but follow him. It was an adventure!

Hearts racing, we pounded through the snowy woods, arms out to fend off rogue branches.  I have always loved the woods in winter: muted and warm from the layers of white.  But on this night, with the stars shrouded behind clouds and the winds howling along with the wolves, it felt like the air was charged with something magical—and perhaps a little dangerous.  At the edge of the woods was the swamp.

Out onto the pristine ice we went, trailing the small mutt as he ducked and weaved through the frozen bulrushes.  The sound of brittle bones creaking underneath as the ice shifted below.  Here’s the problem with swamps in winter: no matter how untouched and innocent they look, there’s always a soft spot. With a crack the ice gave way beneath my boots and I slid down into the chilling, murky water below.

At this point, you might be thinking: Lauren has gone insane.  Swamps and novels are nothing alike.  True.  There are many ways that they are different and only one way that they are similar: when you get stuck, it’s a real mess to claw your way back to your original destination (or point).  At the same time, the act of getting lost in the swamp—or the story—is exhilarating.  Sometimes the thrill of not knowing what will happen next—what new plot twist you will write into the story—makes the process and the product better.  At the same time, writing an outline for your novel is like a safety net.  It serves an important purpose for when you get mired in the bog—or whatever pitfalls you might encounter.

In the end, my cousin lay down on the ice (like we had been taught not that long ago) and managed to pull me out of the frozen muck.  Frozen and exhausted, we lay there, on the banks of the swamp and looked up at the stars.  The dog padded up softly to us and began licking us on our prickling pink cheeks.

Do you write an outline before starting a novel? Is it worth it? What are the best ways to make a novel outline?

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