Thursday, March 14, 2013

Size Matters

How do you decide if something is going to be a novel? A short story? Flash? Novelette? Fantasy epic spanning many volumes?

Not all of these things are apparent when you start, necessarily. You might only have a character in mind, or a kernel of an idea. You might have a full story arc in mind. But how do you decide how many words goes into that arc?

I wrote a short story last fall that I'm wondering if I should novelize. There are more details that could be explored, I feel. It could really be pretty cool, because of course coolness is the prime motivator for anything. I just reread it, and it's only ten pages, a trim 4817 words. There are some sentences in it that I love, a unique pleasure. Can I multiply that by ten? Should I? I sense this is where crazy things like outlines would be useful.

Thankfully, I haven't yet run into the novel I wrote that should have just been a short story. Or I could use that as a personal exercise. Editor people tend to want two page synopses, things like that, yes? That could be fun (another motivator).  Another fun thing would be to take some dearly loved classics which also happen to be cinderblocks and render them down.

I think it's important, sometimes, to get away from the idea that every word you initially laid on the page is crucial and necessary. "Kill your darlings" is one of those phrases, but it's true. On my recent reread of Learn to Howl, before I emailed it off to Kelly (and also Mahria!), was a read-and-edit of the "Does this work? Is this stupid? Let's do this." sort. I removed unnecessary instances of the word "that". I've resisted thinking about it or looking at it since.

But my short story/novel problem. It's been bugging me for days. I think "Oh yes, I can add this other story snippet into it. It would be perfect!" Urban fantasy is what the genre is, if I must label it, and it's a gritty thing, in a city, with a rock star and graffiti and junkies. I wonder if a couple of the characters are too obviously named for their mythological counterparts; I also wonder if anybody even knows or cares anymore. The classical and literary references I make tend to be for my own enjoyment; nobody yet has recognized when I hint at things like Crime and Punishment, or The Stranger. Or if they did, they didn't say.

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