Monday, September 27, 2010

Drastic Reduction

I had this idea a couple years ago for a novel, and I even went as far as outlining it, scene by scene. For some reason, I didn’t start working on it. Something just wasn’t right about it, although I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. So I put it aside to work on other—more pressing—things.

For two years, this idea festered in my mind. Not everyday or anything, just every once in a while, the idea would burble to the top of my idea stack. I’d bat it around a while and then toss it back. I was always too involved with something else to actually work on it. Recently, a “gap” between writing projects presented itself, and I decided to take another look at this outline.

(Aside: This turned out to be problematic. I searched for my outline everywhere: hard drive, back-up hard drive, other computer’s hard drive, file cabinets, email archives, CD-ROM in the safe deposit box. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. But I remembered the idea well enough to jot down a few notes.)

I thought about the project and finally came to two conclusions.

One, the core idea was pretty cool.

Two, it would make a poor novel.

Instead, I wrote a short story.

What would have been a disaster in 300 pages, fit perfectly into twenty. I was able to develop the limited number of characters, and the plot moved along quickly—no lulls, no “muddle in the middle,” no ten-page interior monologues. If the story had been any longer, I’m afraid both the characters and the plot would have seemed watered down and contrived. I’m glad I listened to my gut in the first place and didn’t try to write it as a novel.

Now my challenge is to figure out what to do with the finished story. (Any ideas?)

Have you ever gotten a good idea for a novel, but then felt you couldn’t sustain it for that long, so you turned it into a short story? How did that work out?



Jan Morrison said...

I've only ever written two short stories. One I sent away to the local Writers' Fed contest and all the commentors liked it but thought there was a novel in it! So...I'm of the school that I don't have time to write a short letter so I'll have to write a long one. Have you considered Glimmer Train. They actually pay real money! Yay for real money!!

Anonymous said...

Alan - I'm so glad you were able to figure out what to do with your story and characters. I have to confess, I'm no expert on the short story scene, so any advice of mine that you took would probably crash and burn your story, and I couldn't be responsible for that..

Jenny said...

I used to think that every idea of mine had to grow into a novel, but I'm appreciating short stories more and more these days. I don't really have a good plan for marketing them yet, though. Contests, magazines...?

Anne Gallagher said...

I've actually just discovered short stories and am liking them more and more. There's a place called Duotrope on the web which is the clearing house for short story magazines and e-zines. You might want to check it out to see if you could sell it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Another blogger I follow, B. Miller, has been posting a series this past week on submitting short stories. It's some good stuff, too.

Hart Johnson said...

This has never occurred to me, but I have a stack of ideas I could NEVER get through as novels, and this is a darned good way to cope with that stack... seems like a good exercise in discipline...

Hart Johnson said...

Side note: B. Miller is doing a series on getting short stories published right now (not today, but in September) that has a ton of great advice--if anyone is interested, I definitely recommend checking it out:

Cricket McRae said...

I have the opposite problem -- my short story ideas turn into novels.

Is the story a mystery? Would it be appropriate for Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock mags?
Hearth Cricket

Alan Orloff said...

Jan - I like real money.

Margot - I don't like crashing and burning.

Jenny - I used to read a ton of short stories. Now I read mostly novels, but I've read some anthologies lately.

Piedmont - Thanks for the Duotrope tip. I checked it out--pretty cool!

Alex - I checked out B. Miller's blog, too. Thanks!

Hart - You sound like you have the same problem with ideas that I do. Too many! Thanks for the link to B. Miller.

Cricket - Then what do your novel ideas turn into? Epic series? Yeah, I might try AHMM or EQMM. That would be great to get into one of those.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You know, I don't think I'm a very good short story writer. I love reading them, though. Instead I usually just put the bits of ideas and characters, etc. in a Word file and see if I can use any of it later.

Your idea sounds better, though!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I usually do the opposite, Alan. I try to write a short story and realize I can't stop until I've dealt with "the rest of the story." It turns into a novel.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

You might want to think about contests. I’ve submitted a few short stories to contests and have even won a couple. Another idea is to find an anthology that is looking for stories. Poets and Writers Magazine is a good source for finding both.

Ellen said...

Hi Alan, Great Post! That little voice often rings true! I look forward to more of your posts. Have a Wonderful Day and Thanks for sharing.

skype ellen_thorp