I didn’t want to get an iPhone, but now I’m fighting an addiction. One feature that I use, in the absence of pen and paper, is the “Notes” function. Perhaps because of the inherent limitations of typing into a phone, any notes I input tend to be condensed, telegraphic, coded, and therefore borderline poetic. At least, sharing some of the qualities of poetry.
In the example below, I was thinking of a scene I had to write in Scary Tales #4: Nightmareland and I came up with a plot idea: He would write a message in the snow.
More background: The main character, Aaron, is trapped inside a video game. He is outside in the snow, hunted by a pack of wolves. It is very cold, a very dangerous situation. At the same time, his sister has just discovered his frozen body on the living room couch. She turns to the television screen and lo, there he is, inside the game.
Here are the exact notes I wrote to myself, followed by the scene I actually got around to writing and publishing.
< notes >
Moon falling into snow
Branches stars hands curled
Tight the cold air solid
In his chest winter
Pressing into his skull
From his mouth
He thought of Carrie
His sister his only
But how but how
And he knew
To reach her
He wrote in the snow
I’ve always liked that technique in poetry, by the way, the line rolling over into the next one, for example: “Branches stars hands curled/Tight . . .” Or, say, “His sister his only/Hope.”
I don’t think I was consciously “writing” at that point. Closer to scribbling. There were images, concepts I needed to get down so that later on I could recall them, write them out properly. So in that sense, the outline, if you will, was really just a bunch of trigger words. Seeds. Starting points. It was sort of interesting, though, how upon re-discovering these notes today I couldn’t help but appreciate the poetry in them, those jotted words clumsily & hastily thumbed.
Here’s how it went in the book, where really the only idea that survived in this section — outside of some of the mood I needed to capture, “moon falling into snow,” — was that he would write a message in the snow, drag his boot through it, to reach that someone who (he somehow sensed) was watching on the television set.
The rest is all iceberg theory. That 90% of what we write remains unseen, hidden beneath the surface.
From pp. 43-44, “Nightmareland”:
Aaron inspected the torch. It was burning down, dropping gray ash. The flame wouldn’t last much longer. The wolves were patient. They sat on their haunches, biding time. The biggest wolf — the black one with the scar — lay down in the snow. The others in the pack followed suit.
The wolves were willing to wait for their next meal.
Aaron was surrounded on all sides. Behind him loomed the great, iron fence.
He was trapped.
The flame began to sputter, like a candle in the wind.
Again he felt it, a presence.
Someone was watching him. He felt like a character in a movie. And he sensed something else: Whoever was watching Aaron, he or she was rooting for him.
He was not alone after all.
It gave him an idea. Acting quickly, Aaron dragged a heel across the snow. Up, across, down. Up, across, across, across . . .