Sketching The Story

An outline is simply that —a guide to help you picture and depict events in a narrative poem. People who argue against such outlines either are born storytellers or are able to imagine key elements without putting them down on paper first. By making a sketch, you can see what elements might falter and what might succeed — before you write your poem. You'll save time and energy, recognizing good stories and avoiding problematic ones that stand little chance of success.

To illustrate, let's make outlines for Macioci's poems to see why they succeed:

1. "The 1945 Poker Game Transcendence"

• Topic: Childhood memory

• Theme: Transcendence

• Voice: Pushed, descriptive, sensual

• Viewpoint: Narrator

• Result: Topic and theme harmonize with voice and viewpoint; moreover, the moment adds tension because the child cannot comment anyway, and the ending enhances theme,

2. "Forty Years Later, the Father's Remaining Debt"

• Theme: Forgiveness

• Voice: Intelligent, descriptive, resigned

• Viewpoint: Narrator

• Result: Topic and theme suit each other, as do voice and viewpoint; thus, the narrator can investigate the incident, using the moment for tension and perspective and coming to a conclusion.

3. "Knife"

• Voice: Reflective, descriptive, conversational

• Viewpoint: Narrator

• Result: Again, topic and theme suit each other and voice allows the narrator to piece together evidence of abuse, reflect on it, and come to a conclusion.

As you can see, such an outline is a blueprint of a writer's style. Contrast one of Macioci's poem's with my own, "The Old Trick":

• Theme: Compassion

• Voice: Official, conversational, humorous

• Viewpoint: Solomon's

— and then watch what happens when I insert elements from my outline into Macioci's "Forty Years Later, the Father's Remaining Debt":

• Theme: Compassion

• Voice: Official, conversational, humorous

• Viewpoint: Solomon's

Clearly, the above hybird contains flaws. It indicates that although it would be possible to write a poem about child abuse with a theme of compassion, the poem probably would have a better chance of success if the voice, viewpoint and ending were altered. That's the value of aligning elements of your narrative before you write it, envisioning how your story will sound on the page.

Now let's end with a brief introduction (accompanied by an outline) to narrative verse included in the mini anthology:

• In "The Man Who Beat the Game at Johnny's Truck Stop," T.R. Hummer employs the collective plural first person we to add another level of meaning in his narrative. Notice, too, how the moment allows the narrator to depict action and comment and how the theme is resolved in a closed ending.


• Topic: Friendship

• Theme: Acceptance

• Voice: Conversational, plaintive, anxious

• Viewpoint: Narrator

• In "The Man Who Grew Silent," Jim Peterson employs a complex storyteller; thus, Peterson says, "the reader or listener must remain alert to the fact that the story is being filtered through the eyes and heart of one who has an 'attitude.' " Note how the moment allows the storyteller to relate and filter events and how the main character's fate is implied in the ending.


• Theme: Surrender

• Voice: Dispassionate, descriptive, unreliable

• In "Faint-light," Robert Kinsley tries to weave social and mythical elements in his narrative. Note how a simple deed — spending the dawn with his son, swinging —becomes a vehicle of enlightenment, thanks to voice. Note, too, how comment and action blend and then meld into an ending that emphasizes the theme. Outline:

• Topic. Fatherhood

• Voice: Introspective, descriptive, philosophical

• Viewpoint: Narrator

Kinsley says about his poem: "I want to believe in a world larger than myself, in which Gods still do exist."

If you feel the same way, the narrative is custom-made for your muse.

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