A Necessary Detour

This week I had to take a short break from working on my novel. I didn’t want to, necessarily, it just worked out that way. Something I hadn’t seen much of in a while wandered across my path and drew my attention.

Ideas for stories come to me – to most writers, I suspect – in the oddest ways, unannounced and when least expected. In this case I was taking my dog, Daphne, for a late-night stroll around the property. I often talk to her as we walk, and on this occasion something I said sparked a little idea in my head. Just an innocent little phrase, but my mind took it and ran with it into darker places. By the time we came up the stairs and back inside for the night, the basis for a short story had been born.

I came inside, and once everyone else in the house was bedded down for the night I sat down at the computer and decided I needed to get the basic idea down before it got away. I sent a message to a friend that outlined the story in a few lines. I wanted an outside opinion – sometimes ideas that sound cool at first, in my head, make less sense once they go from concept to execution. In this case I got the thumbs up and forged ahead.

It isn’t finished yet, but it’s outlined. In my own vernacular, the skeleton has been assembled, now it just needs meat on the bones. I’ll pick and putter with it for a while until I’m happy with it, put it through my usual routine, and call it done. It’s nice, because after hammering away at novels almost exclusively for the last three-plus years, writing a short story is a recent rarity for me.

So, why was it a “necessary detour”, as the title implies? While I often stress the need to finish projects and not leave them lying around in various stages of disarray and disassembly, sometimes when something you’re working on feels like a struggle a step back can be a blessing. It’s not a long term thing – I’ll go back to the grindstone soon enough. I feel I may have needed a little pause, without pausing. In this case it came in the form of a new project. Just a brief side road to renew my enthusiasm, and maybe a little reminder that I’m still capable of pulling out a short story once in a while.

On a related note, Crafting the Short Story  kicked off this week. I always look forward to working with a new group, and so far this one has a fun dynamic. It should be a good run.

Time to get back to it. Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Process… or Lack Thereof

As I’ve alluded to in recent posts, I’ve been working on a new novel. I mentioned the characters last time around, and today I thought I’d touch on the creative process a little bit.

Over the years I’ve heard and read a ton of tips and advice on the writing process. Everyone has an opinion on the best approach, many of which differ greatly, though I’ve found there’s a nugget of wisdom in nearly all of them. At the end of the day, it’s my opinion that any approach that leads to creativity is the correct one.

I’ve written three novels (or will have once this one is finished) and each has come together in a totally different way. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the current project, which actually first came to life as a short story. As with so many of the things I write, it began with a “what if?” that occurred to me. I mulled it over, and the more I thought about it the cooler it sounded. I wrote the story and was pleased with it. Normally when I write a story that’s the end of it. But this one just kept coming back to torment me.

Something about it bothered me. The premise, the plot line, all of that was cool. But the more I thought about it the more I realized I wasn’t entirely happy with how it came out. I decided it needed more – these characters had stories that deserved to be told. The “villain”, so to speak, needed time and space to marinate. In other words, I had hit the highlights, but the story still hadn’t been told.

So, I pulled out the story, read it over, and made notes to myself as I went. I added scenes, filled out existing ones, drew out the descriptions. The characters began to leap off the page, as they so often do when given free rein. Before I knew it, this six thousand word short story was over 30k and still growing. Points of interest that hadn’t been fully explored due to space constraints now had room to grow and flourish. Chapters got shuffled and reordered, new issues presented and then resolved themselves.

All in all it was anything but a traditional approach to writing a book. But then again, a great deal of what I do is anything but traditional or “normal”. Why should this novel be any different? There have been times when I’ve been tempted to call it quits and just say “this isn’t worth it, does anyone even want to read a short story that I stretched into a novel?” My hope is the answer to that is yes. But ultimately, it’s interesting enough to me to make me keep going with it, so keep going I shall.

I don’t know that I’d recommend tackling a novel in this way. It sounds more haphazard and chaotic than it really has been, but it’s still probably far from the most efficient way to go about it. Hell, I’m still not finished, so I can’t say for sure how successful an approach it’s been. But like I said before, anything that brings out the creative muse and makes some magic appear on the page is the correct way to go about it. Or maybe, the complete lack of a recognizable process IS a process unto itself.

I don’t know. But finding out has been quite an interesting experience. I’ll post here from time to time and let you know how it works out.

-JP