This is the eternal plotting question. Do you jump right in to some vaguely ill-defined story, hoping to the muse gods that you can find your way, or do you meticulously plot each twist and turn and never lose track of where you are?
I know some people swear by plotting. They insist this is the only way to write. Others, like me, like to start the story and worry about the plot when the thing is done. I've started stories on as little as a title pulled out of the air – From the Darkness to the Light, due out soon from MLR Press. Many others began with a character, or in the case of the original Chris and David story I called The Witness, still available on Archerland http://archerland.disbelieve.org/patrick.htm from two characters, Christopher Bellamere and David Eric Laine.
Even my complex historical fiction which need a lot of research and need to work a fine line between truth and make believe. To prepare for the novel, instead of doing an outline, I read historical non-fiction and let that fire me up. I did that when I knew I was going to do Nanowrimo I pulled out an historical novel I had started and later shelved to do edits on other novels that were closer to publishing. I didn't even reread the story, instead I read non-fiction set in the time-period—1850s--and surfed the web for more data. I made the 50,000 with it too, so now I'm up to 65,000.
Coming in the New Year:
The Invisible City by GK Parker
Two Irish immigrants and a 10-year-old unscrupulous street urchin struggle to survive in the invisible city of Five Points, the foulest place on Earth.
"Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays..." Charles Dickens after visiting Five Points
March 12, 1887 aboard the S.S.Aurania
The first body went into the sea on their third day. All too soon the rest of the family followed.
Jack Doss watched each ocean burial, heard the few who cared weeping as they watched the canvass cloth covering the diseased corpses slide under the gray waves. Little Sarah had lingered but when she wailed no one on deck even heard it. For sure, no one would enter the cabin to tend the babe. Their hearts were hardened to her unending crying.
The following day, when the baby's squall picked up again, Jack waited for the crew to take action. Surely no one could listen to that all day and do nothing. But none stepped forward even as the baby's howl overcame the screeing sea birds. By day's end the baby's cries weakened.
Jack felt the huge sigh of relief which swept the ship now that no one had to hear the baby. He never stopped hearing. Memories flooded back and the shrieks and soft infant sounds put him back in the army barracks where the bomb his brother had set had gone off prematurely. Seamus had lain on the blackened, rubble strewn floor, holding his stomach as his guts spilled. His screams had brought no more help than the baby's.
With an oath Jack left the rail, pushing others out of his way. He plunged down the ladder to the second class family cabin level. The door to the O'Neil's cabin had been left open.
Jack barreled through it, his gaze sweeping the small room. Only when the baby made soft snuffling sounds did he realize it was under the blanket on the only bed in the room.
The baby was red-faced and opened its mouth to scream anew when Jack lifted it up. The crying turned into a hiccup. Brilliant blue eyes stared back at him as he looked the naked baby over. It was a little girl, no more than a few months old. What had her family faced that they would make such a treacherous journey with so young a baby?
Even the red-face didn't conceal the bumps, some burst and crusting over. He held the child and went over his options. He knew taking her topside might well get both of them tossed overboard. In steerage where Jack shared an upper bunk with two other men, they would surely face the same fate.
He could leave it. The girl was going to die soon, did it really matter if she was alone? Her skin was so feverish he doubted she had any real awareness of her surroundings.
Jack stood, holding the little girl, now sucking her thumb, tucked against his ribs, like he used to hold Kate, the last born. He gazed down to find the baby staring back, full awareness in her eyes.
Leave. There was nothing he could do. No one would blame him. But isn't that what he'd done to his brother? Left him alone to die. Even if it was Seamus who told him to flee so that one of them would remain alive.
The baby stopped sucking and Jack felt her stiffen and knew she was getting set to shriek again. Hastily he sat on the bed, rocking the girl, trying not to tear the pus-filled blisters or cause her more pain.
She continued fussing and he lay down, wrapping her in the blanket and laying her atop his chest, the softest and warmest thing available. One tiny finger closed over Jack's thumb, the other went back in her mouth. Her eyes closed and after a few long minutes so did Jack's.
Rough sea woke him. Swamped by confusion at first, the weight on his chest was negligible. He shifted his torso and the bundle rolled off. He sat up so fast, his head spun and everything in the dimly lit cabin grew fuzzy. Rolling off the bed, he rose and stared down at the blanket wrapped form and remembered.
With shaking hands he flipped the blanket open, exposing the tiny body. Her eyes were closed and he could see no sign of breathing. Gently, he touched her chest and found her skin cold. She was dead. Probably died hours ago. He rewrapped the corpse and cradling it in one arm, took the ladder topside.
Winds whipped the deck, singing through the overhead rigging. Jack's thin jacket did nothing to keep the icy wind off him. He shivered and looked with yearning at the open hatch that would take him back to his berth and, as vile as it was, it seemed better than what he faced now.
The deck was nearly empty. A pair of seamen came around the fo'c'sle. Catching sight of Jack, they strode over, scowls growing on their weathered faces.
"Here now, whut ya doin' up here?" The oldest crewman, his face seamed with decades at sea snapped. "Get below."
Jack stood his ground. "Soon as I do my duty to the babe. She didna deserve to die like this. We at least owe her a proper burial. I'm fetching the priest to say Mass."
"That auld sod-knocker be in his cups by now. he ain't likely to have God's ear tonight."
"Or any night," the other seamen said. He spat on the rain slicked deck. "Papist. Shouldn't a let him on the ship."
"I'll be sure to tell him you said good evening to him."
"Didn't ya hear the man, there, Paddy? Go below."
Jack stared at them for several heartbeats. Then he nodded and unfolded the blanket revealing the small, scarred body. He offered it to them. "Then I'll leave her with you to take care of. Her name was Sarah O'Neil."
"It's the pox. Mister, yer gonna die." The sailors looked at the dead child in horror. "Keep that thing away from me."
"Afeared of a little girl? With the pox." Jack paused for several seconds. "Didn't think so."
Jack bound Sarah in the blanket and continued on his way to the priest's first class cabin. The sailors didn't follow. He rapped on the door and waited for the man to open it a crack and peer out. His face, behind his dark beard, paled and he crossed himself. At first Jack wasn't sure the priest would let him in but once he realized Jack wasn't going away he let him pass the portal with the body.
"We need to consign her to God's mercy before dawn, Jack said. "The fewer folks see it, the better."
"Don't you fear the disease, my boy?"
Jack shrugged. "I had the cowpox as a lad."
Father Kelly scrambled into his vestments and they proceeded to the deck. The ship, S.S.Aurania, pitched more violently, its sails reeled in. Jack, still carrying the babe, and followed by the priest made their way to the port side. Jack was glad to see the two sailors were gone. Rain and seawater lashed them, whipping the priest's robes around him like vast sails.
They held onto each other and clung to the rail. Over the howl of the gale, the priest recited the Requiem Mass, "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine..."
The Mass was crude at best, circumstances made anything else impossible. Jack never blinked as the bundle was tipped over the rail. There was barely a splash, and any sound was covered by the worsening storm. Jack wished he had some words, but what could he say?