Exploring New Territory

I wrote a novella—the first draft of one, anyway.

I only sent it out to beta readers a few days ago, and I’ve just started to get responses. Nobody has rage-flipped the manuscript yet, so I’m going to take that as a sign I don't have to wipe everything and start over.

It’s an incredible relief, to be honest. I’m always at least a little skittish about sending things out, but this time I’ve been especially anxious.  Part of it is the usual drama, but the rest stems from the fact that this is my first time working in the form.

I’ve written one novel-length manuscript (98,000 words or so). I loved the experience. It’s pretty cool to be able to stretch out and explore. I liked trying to create a complex plot structure and characters. Novels allow a lot of room for experimentation.

As much as I enjoyed writing a novel length work, lately I've been writing a lot of short stories (my range is usually between 1,000-6,000 words). I very much enjoy that form. I like how it forces me to pare down my prose--how it lets me work on character and story within a tight frame.

I expect I’ll always write short stories, but I’ve never abandoned my ideas for novels. I like to let them stew a long time. Short works help me keep up the writing habit.

Around the time of NaNo (see posts from a few months ago) I decided it was time to take one of those ideas and get to work on it. I chose a set of characters and a concept that I’ve been thinking about for a long time—they first saw the light of day in a class I took last summer (the challenge was to write a killer opening 3 pages).  So I had a setting and character. I had conflict. But the rest was a little fuzzy.

Still, I was ready to write a novel.

Then the plan changed. I’m not going to get into the inciting incident right now, but I can say that I’m really happy that I decided to take the core idea and develop it into three novellas.

It forced me to really focus and commit. I needed a nudge to move from one groove into the next. I’d had a routine for short story writing, but longer form feels different for me. Also, with a clear goal I was less likely to “cheat” on the WIP in favor of shorts.

The change in plan helped me to enrich my characters, the conflict, and the world of the story.

The new direction also required me to write a synopsis for each novella.

And that, my friends, was a revelation. It let me discover my own sweet spot for planning.

I’m not entirely comfortable with “pantsing.” I don't trust myself with that much freedom. I fear self-indulgence would carry me away too far. I also wouldn’t look forward to the kind of massive revisions I believe would ensue. Basically, I need more structure.

However, I’m equally uncomfortable with outlines. I don’t care to work from meticulously detailed outlines. I start to feel constricted, or worse, beholden to the form.

I've realized that I like outlines for scenes or sections. I scribble an outline until I feel ready to write again. Keeping it loose helps. I used some outlines to get through tricky parts of the synopsis. 

So writing the synopsis gave me the opportunity to work with the best of both worlds. I gave myself about a page per novella. It meant I had to have the whole story arc in place. I had to develop detail, transitions, and plot points to get from beginning to end.

Then I had to identify the most important elements. Writing the synopsis meant I labored over phrasing, and selection. I tried out different ideas and saw where they might go. I wrote and rewrote it. 

Then I did it two more times. 

It was hard work, but I was pleased with the results.

I was sold on the strategy by the time I started to draft. I had a clear plan, a template, but there was room for me to explore. It was flexible enough to accommodate moments of inspiration, but still gave me structure.

The only major doubt was about timing and plot. I have a pretty good idea of how much I can put into a short story, though I’m often guilty of not letting it breathe as much as it should. I also have a decent grasp on novels—they have a lot of room for additional events, sub-plots, etc.

I wasn’t so sure about the novella. I feared I’d have to little, then I worried I'd tried to cram too much into 25,000 words.

I’m happy to say that I think I got close to the right balance. It will need tweaking, but I was close. I didn't need to chop 10,000 extra words or anything. 

Whew.

I think the next novella in the series will be more comfortable to work with. I know the characters better now. My instincts for the form and the story will be a couple steps further along. It will be fun.

Even if my plan changes again, I think I can adapt the novellas into a novel. That’s comforting too.

I’m all about comfort.

I’ll share news, updates, and lessons I’ve learned as the project develops. I figure I'll get over my case of "vagueblogging" by then. Or not. Trying to keep the mystery alive, you know. 

As always, thanks for stopping by.