Progress Update for 2/21

by sbh on Thursday - 21 February 2008

in Uncategorized

I have not produced one of these progress updates in quite some time. This has little to do with productivity, however, and more to do with a shift in focus. While it’s easy to write brief entries about new material being produced, it is more difficult to write about the process of rewriting which has been going on. So, I’ll do a bit of that here.

I’ve been working on a story that has been called “Execution.” The protagonist, a teenager named Heath, witnesses a public lynching — which haunts him of course, all the more because the victim is closely related to his longtime crush. As I’ve read through the manuscript, making various notations, I’ve come to realize a few things.

First, I am not a fan of overly long short stories. I think 20 pages of decent-sized type is a good length. When you get into short stories that are 50, 60, 70 pages long, you cease to have the ability to sit down and just read them.

Looking at “Execution,” there is definitely the opportunity here for some expansion. I think the story would be served by exploring character and setting in greater detail. For the most part, I rush through the action because that’s what is more in my head than anything else. The conflict. What’s happening? What’s going on? I like to get that stuff out. Now it’s time to flesh out this world a little more. Unfortunately, the story is already 30+ pages before the necessary expansion that will come with this fleshing out. What to do? Keep the story in “short” format, or expand the story into novel format?

When thinking about writing a novel, a few important factors must be taken into account. Here is my reckoning:

1. Do I have enough material for a novel?
— The short answer here is “no.” The longer answer is “maybe.” I really like some of the characters, and I really like some elements of the story. However, I’d have to think long and hard about where to go with it. I don’t simply want to add fluff to make it novel length.

2. Do I have the patience?
— One of the great things about short stories is that they are nearly instantly rewarding. You can complete a draft in a matter of a few days and have a nice warm feeling in your tummy. Novels, unless you’re doing something like “NaNoWriMo”: do not work in quite the same fashion. Am I prepared for the marathon? Or am I still a sprinter?

3. To what degree do I plan?
— With short stories, it’s easy to start with a basic idea and just go. You’re off and running in no time and the story is taking you wherever it wants to go. I don’t doubt that the same could be true of novels, but I suspect that some greater level of planning would be of real benefit.

So, I find myself at an impasse. After completing the first draft of “Execution,” I was looking forward to rereading it (after my requisite 4-week cooldown) and separating the wheat from the chaff. Instead, I find I want to add to it, rather than take away.

I wonder if this is a common feeling.

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