Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Short - long. Stories are not a one size fits all

Most writers at some point in their lives write short stories for competitions. I have had some little success in this area, with the emphasis on little. But writing shorts is great training for the budding writer. A word limit forces you to be sparing, but you still must get every nuance and twist into the story while making sure your characters are not the literary parallel of cardboard cutouts and that everything holds together in a coherent whole.

I have many short stories in the relevant folder, most of them have not seen the light of day. Some did see the light of day only to be relegated to the computer equivalent of the back of a drawer. Some have shone. But there are always a few that live in your memory. I have three currently sitting idle. One in particular is a good story, logical, bit of a twist, a protagonist that I like and who I feel excites sympathy. So why is it still languishing in the darkness. Because, I realised yesterday morning, it is actually a novel, not a short. I can't tell you how quickly I woke up when that thought flashed into my brain.

Of course, it needs a lot of work, not to mention an extra 85 thousand words, but I'm now in that first flush of seeing the whole thing. In fact, I believe it could well make a vehicle for my early-music soprano detective, Georgia Pattison. And, what is so heartwarming, is that I don't have to work out where the story is going because I already know. At least that's the theory. When I actually get down to it, the whole thing will change because it always does and I know I can't write to a strict 'this is what happens next and then ...'. I know of many writers who make detailed chapter plans. The most I can do is write on a clear glass panel that used to be a shower door, now fixed to the office wall. A kind of mind map making connections. I stare at it, drink coffee and then adjust a few bits. So the most I know when I begin is where I am beginning and roughly where I want to end. The bit in between is as much a journey for me as it will be for the reader.

And that, dear friends, is one of the absolute joys of writing. Characters are not puppets for me to manipulate. They are themselves and act in character, which is why I will write something and then wonder where on earth that came from. It's a wonderful feeling. Why would I ever want to do anything else?

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