Earlier this week, Blaze and I went out to breakfast and started talking writing and publishing.
I know, y’all are so surprised at that.
In addition to talking over some of the things that we are planning on doing next year, we got onto the subject of craft.
Blaze mentors a younger writer who’s just figuring out their writing and process. By talking with this person, Blaze has to be able to think through his own writing process and be able to articulate it.
Plus, this person has some cool life experiences, as well as marvelous insights into the present day, as they are quite a bit younger than either Blaze or I.
So he was talking about one of their recent conversations. They are writing a series, and have written four or five of the novels so far. The penultimate novel they’d just finished turned out to be considerably shorter than the others. Every other book had fallen within a 2-3000 word span. This one was closer to 12,000 words shorter.
Blaze told them that they were missing a side character’s story and resolution.
The person went, looked, and then came back and told Blaze that he’d been right, and how had he known that?
So we started talking about the structure of stories and novels, how to step your writing up from short stories to novels, how to grow your plot ideas longer, or even how to shorten them up.
We came up with several chapters for a new Business for Breakfast book that he’ll write sometime before next year. Probably call it something like, “Stepping Up To Novel” and will be a 201-level book. (Business for Breakfast books go from 101 to 301.)
We went back and forth about who was going to write this book, whether he should do it or if I should.
Eventually, it came down to time. He is writing more (and faster) than I am. I have several novels that I want to work on, as well as short stories that are due. His schedule is looser, so he can fit in a B4B more easily than I can.
However, I keep thinking about this topic, so I thought I’d skim over the top of the subject, while he’ll go into much more detail about all of it. Or at least the first part.
We wanted to start small, with a short story. We always refer to the formula that John Helfers once told us, at a workshop, basically called 1-2-3.
One problem. Just one. You need to be able to articulate your problem without using the word “and.” Tack on another 1-3000 words for every “and” that you add to your problem description.
Keep it short. A mugging in an alley.
Of course, to make it a story, you need to be able to squeeze in why the character is in the alley, and why she’s being mugged.
That falls back into something Blaze and I frequently talk about when we’re reading stories for our various projects: why this story? Why this character? Why now? If all you’re giving me is slice of life, and the character never deviates from their normal, everyday life, I don’t consider that a story.
My definition of story comes from Neil Gaiman: Something happens to someone. They either change, or they don’t.
What’s important is that there is always a choice. If the choice is not there, it is just a vignette, not a story. A character can choose to not change. That, too, is a story, and difficult to pull off and keep the reader hooked. I’ve seen it done in mystery a few times.
But I digress.
One problem. Just one. A mugging in an alley.
Two characters. Adding more than just two characters makes your story longer. There need to be only two characters. There can be mentions of other characters, but they have to be kept in the background.
Three thousand words. If you strictly adhere to one and two, you should be able to bring in a story in three thousand words.
Many of the markets today are looking for shorter, not longer. It can be to your advantage to hone in this skill of paring things down.
The next step is when you add a complication to the plot. Not just for the sake of making a more complicated plot, but frequently, to add a new element.
In addition to the character, you add a mystery. (Not necessarily just a crime, but a full-blown mystery with clues and such.) Or maybe it’s a thriller, and you need to add the conspiracy to the main thoroughfare. Perhaps it’s fantasy, and there’s a lot more world that needs explaining because it’s part of the plot. Science fiction has this element as well.
You can also add a secondary line through the story.
For example, romantic suspense. You need to develop the romance as well as keep up the suspense. These sorts of stories are generally longer as a result.
So yeah, thinking a lot about these sorts of things, the sorts of things you can add to a story to bump it up from short to long.
Hope this brief dip into structure helped you!
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