Monday, 9 April 2012

The art of writing small (but not too small)

I have just finished the first draft of my work in progress, Boundless as the Sea.  Okay, not a work in progress now so much as a work-awaiting-revision but there you go.


Big pat on the back, now moving swiftly on.  In his truly marvellous part-memoir part-text book, On Writing, Stephen King recommends putting your manuscript away in a drawer and then revisiting a few weeks later.  That helps you to read it with a fresh pair of eyes.  I completely agree.

So I have a few weeks - what now?

Do I move straight on to the third novel in my trilogy, the story of Ernestina?  I think not.  That needs more planning, more outlining, more preparation.  I fancy a bit of a change.  And what I fancy writing is a short story - or a novella.

This isn't the first time I've dipped my toe in the water of a novella.  I have tried beforeNocturne Bite anyone? #Fail.  Harlequin Historical Undone? #Fail. 

I can write flash fiction. 

I can write a novel. 

Why can't I write anything in between?

Here's what I've learned from writing flash fiction:

1. Have a story arc but...

2.  Write tight.  

In microfiction or flash fiction you're dealing with 100 words.  At best 300 words.  You have time to set the scene, have one twist and then complete.  In that space you need to be visceral, immediate, intense.  All senses need to be invoked.

I can do that in 100 words... 200.... even 300...  longer than that and I get sloppy.  I have adjectives to play with, back story to pop in.  Before I know it, I'm two thirds through a full length novel.  And my novels are long.  Boundless as the Sea is nearing 110K words - 100K words too long for Avon.  Nearly 40K words too long for Harlequin. 

You see why it is a Work-in-Revision.

But back to the novella.  

Thanks to the ownership of my beloved kindle I have been reading a lot more novellas.  I like them.  Done well they are a bite-size but fulfilling chunk of fiction.  The prose equivalent of a Twirl bar, the perfect accompaniment to a long, hot soak in the bath.  Yum!

Typically 15K - 20K words, here is where they differ from a novel.

1. Immediacy.  A novella is immediate.  There is no time for a slow burn - the heroine and heroine need to be flung together from the get go.

2. Intensity.  There is no time for digression, or for dilly dallying with secondary characters.  A novella requires a sharp focus - usually on the two protagonists.

3. Time frame.  You can't span years.  Your novella needs to take place in a rapid time line, from first sight to completion.


4. You still need a structure through which your characters experience conflict and find resolution.

5. You still need back story.  Your character has to be believable and rich.  The world well conceived.

Where does this leave me?

With chapter one of a bloody novel that's where.

So back to the drawing board.  In  an effort to escape my own verbosity I'm going to start at the end.  That's right.   I'm going to write the final chapter and work back from there.  A new approach - let's see how it works!

Any hints or tips for writing short?


Stacy Bennett said...

Great post. We are in a surprisingly similar boat (I got mine at L.L.Bean and you?) I'm working on a short story for a contest. Broad prompt, nice seed of an idea but it comes out kinda flat. I want it to zing like flash does but 5000 feels too long for zing. I'll try tightening up the time frame using your writing backward idea. (I did that on all my geometry proofs!) Thank you for the idea and good luck!

Meg McNulty said...

LOL, I find *thinking* backwards helps when you need to come up with an efficient strategy for anything, so I'm hoping that plotting backwards works too! Am thinking it will make the narrative much more driven and focused because I can pare back anything that doesn't take me to my final destination.

sirkeystone said...

I am in the same boat. Have been for a month. While I've been in mechanical on two novels, I sit in a stupor about what to do next.

The Maraude Series is over 35 books long as far the arc goes, but I don't want to be 3 books ahead of myself.

Currently working through the ideas in 90 Day Novel (have it on my Kindle) but this is still killing me.

#WIP500 has been more about finding filler for than it really is about a WIP. It's driving me crazy!

Meg McNulty said...

@sirkeystone I hadn't come across either OR 90 Day novel. *head hurts from twoo many ideas!*.

A 35 book arc is something of which I am in AWE. I knew you were prolific but hot DAMN you are PROLIFIC!

sirkeystone said...

LOL thanks. «blush»

750words is just a place to spill your guts on the page and who cares what it looks like. Basically three pages worth of words to clear your head. It was working too until I started editing.......

I'm not really trying to sell 90 day novel, but he hits a key point that I think we all miss. Nearly the whole first month is writing, but it has nothing to really do with the story. It's about answering questions about your characters and their situations. By about the third week you finally have a good foundation to start with a loose outline, and then you hit the key punch list items that would make it fit in any size. By the time you are finished with (actually the snowflake method isn't far from this) the outline, the right amount of words could take this story to what ever size you wished. Be it 750 words or 250,000. It's all the same story, it's just how much you tell about it.

Meg McNulty said...

Really good point - and food for thought. I was trying out doing flash fictions to try to get to know my characters which is a similar idea. Find it easier to get to know them by writing than by outlining if you know what I mean.

Katherine Bone said...

I have 90 Days too and I love it! I'm getting ready to try Candice Havens' Fast Draft, writing a book in 2 weeks. ;)

I've never thought of writing a novella because I can't get past the sense that it's tiny. Like you, I think on a grand scale and need the page count to explore those plot ideas.

I admire anyone who can write this genre. Besides the quick aspect of novellas, what else attracts you to this format?

Meg McNulty said...

I like the intensity you can get in a novella. The twirl bar (do they have them on your side of the pond?) aspect. There's a skill to that I'd love to master. But I haven't, lol.