Never tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. Not after what I just experienced today.
When I began writing this afternoon, I was well over 25,000 words and the big, climactic scene in SHADA was about to begin. I was completely at a loss as to what to do with it. I know the typical expectations of the paranormal suspense genre. I understood the conflicts and inner turmoil that had brought all my characters, but especially Ember, to this point. And the best idea I had involved a vague notion of EVPs or a floating Ouija board spontaneously responding to questions.
In other words, cheesy genre concepts I wasn’t completely happy with. And even what I had written so far was evidence of my aversion to those solutions. It was as though my creative instincts were telling me no, even though my conscious mind had no firm Plan B waiting in the wings.
But I began to write, and, well…
…don’t tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t.
As I was writing, I just let the characters and the situation take over. I wrote without thinking about it. I wrote the moment and just let things happen.
And a solution appeared.
I’d love to tell you about it. Really, I’m burning up here with anticipation to see what others think of it. I want to shout for joy and share this experience about how I solved the biggest conundrum in all of SHADA … what to do with the climactic scene … and how the best possible, most unexpected way of handling things just … appeared on paper as I wrote.
It’s a perfect, perfect moment that, in a real out-of-left-field way, but in a way that completely works, just does everything that needs doing in a way that will take readers by surprise and, hopefully, leave them satisfied.
If I did that … if I shared what appeared as I typed the scene out here … it would spoil the entire SHADA short novel. Absolutely ruin the surprise. No, this is something I simply have to keep to myself. It has to be part of experiencing the story, or it might never make sense. And it certainly wouldn’t be fully appreciated out of context.
No, I’m keeping my trap shut on this little tidbit. If you want to know, you’ll have to wait until SHADA is released. You’ll have to buy the book and read it for yourself. And since it’s going to be released at only $0.99, there’s practically no sane reason not to.
But that’s a ways off yet. I am at just over 27,000 words and have a few thousand more to go before everything wraps up, giving the novel closure. Then there is the beta-reading and the editing and the revisions yet to come. But trust me, I can now say with full confidence, it’s going to be worth the wait.
SHADA has a resolution that will take you by surprise. Guaranteed.
And until I actually wrote it, I never even saw it coming.
So, again, never tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. Not after what I just experienced today.
Over at KindleBoards.com, there was a recent discussion thread where a fellow author wondered about whether he should publish his novel as a novel, or as three shorts novellas. He was concerned because he knew of a reader who had read an eBook and expressed a preference for reading a complete novel, rather than, “a one-act novella.”
He asked for feedback and I posted my response before reading what anyone else wrote. I’ve adapted it here for my writer’s blog because I think it’s an important question to consider.
You see, I think novellas are a wonderful thing.
But only if a complete story is being told; something with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying resolution. A one-act story that’s obviously part of a longer work, where there’s not much middle and no resolution/end, is not, to me, satisfying.
I think of some of the short novels and novellas I’ve read and loved over time.
RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Stephen King:
This short novel by King contained more plot, detail, story and memorable characters than many authors offer up using twice the number of words. It wasn’t part of a series, though; King resolved everything that needed to be resolved within that form.
THE BODY by Stephen King
Again, a short novel by King that offers a complete reading experience, in and of itself. And one of the most influential novels on MY life that I’ve ever read.
These are a handy pair that leap to mind immediately.
What is less satisfying is when one is offered a short novel, but all it does is introduce and establish the cast and the basic conflict, without really telling any story. That’s a sin that, I contend, is exactly what the first two books of Stephanie Meyer’s TWILIGHT series do. There’s really nothing in those first two novels.
And a lot of paranormal romances are like TWILIGHT.
Now, I’m all about writing novels that are part of a series. It can be a fun thing to do. They can even be a pleasure to read. But each installment must have a sense of something happening, and something being resolved by the end of it, even if more story lay ahead.
Think of it this way: The Hardy Boys Mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon were a very popular series from the 1930s on. Each novel followed Jim Shooter’s rules for storytelling (even though they were written before Shooter was born).
Introducing characters, establishing conflict, building suspense, and reaching a resolution to… something! That’s not the complete list, but that’s the essence of it.
Would the Hardy Boys have been as good a series, as popular with readers, if it were structured like modern-day paranormal roamnces? Here’s how that might look.
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 1
Joe and Frank go to Black Rock Summer Camp and find themselves … accused of the murder of nerdy science geek and fellow camper, Brad Brent!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 2
Joe and Frank escape from police custody and are on the run from the law as they seek to discover the identity of the real killer of Brad Brent before he strikes again. But then another camper shows up dead: head counselor and Joe and Frank’s main suspect, Robert Worrell!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 3
Accused of both the murder of Brad Brent and Robert Worrell, Joe and Frank call their police-chief father to come to summer camp and help them solve the murder. On the drive up, he pulls to the side of the road and takes a nap. When he wakes up, he’s being held captive by… Camp Founder Nathan Vean!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 4
Joe and Frank elude capture as their father fights for his life against Camp Founder Nathan Vean. They stumble upon the cabin Vean is holding their father in, overcome Vean, and expose him as the culprit of the crime. END OF MURDER AT BLACK ROCK.
Be sure to buy our next Hardy Boys Saga, A SERIOUS EYE INFECTION… a mystery in SIX PARTS!
Would that have led to success for The Hardy Boys?
No. Of course not. Readers would have been ticked off.
We need, as writers, to realize that novels are NOT episodic television. What works for DOCTOR WHO or THE KILLING does not work in novel form. And the fact that DOCTOR WHO novelizations gather the old Tom Baker serials (and the serials of other Doctors, too, of course) into one novel per story, instead of taking a seven-episode story and making it seven short novels, should tell us something.
I have an interest in how to approach this sort of conundrum.
I am working on a series next myself. The EMBER series of novels. There are certain character arc elements to my series that will carry over from novel to novel.
But one thing I won’t be doing with EMBER is telling an incomplete story and calling it a novel, or even a short novel.
I’m working on the first installment, SHADA, which is a prequel of sorts to EMBER. Call it “Ember, Book Zero” if you wish.
It’s already over 25,000 words and will go at least 30,000, maybe even 35,000. It’ll go as long as it goes, I guess.
Because as much as I want SHADA to be a short novel, I want even more for SHADA to be a complete reading experience in and of itself. Some of the characters will move on to the next book. Others may fade out.
New characters definitely pop up as the series goes on. But the main story of SHADA is the story of a camping trip these four friends go on and their adventures during it. When the words THE END appear at the conclusion of SHADA, that camping experience that the novel is about is done, over, told.
The ramifications of it may ripple into future novels, sure. That’s fair. But that particular adventure is complete.
So, these are my thoughts.
I love short novels.
I love series.
I don’t love incomplete reading experiences, though. So if something needs to be novel-length to be complete, make it novel-length. If something’s a short novel length and is complete, let it be a short novel.
GOLDEN RULE: Short stories, novelettes, short novels and novels are not episodic television. Each story needs a beginning, middle and resolution/end. Anything less, and whatever it is, it’s not a story.
Well, I’d love to report that SHADA, the short novel that will introduce the EMBER series to the world, is complete at this point. But it’s not.
At the moment, SHADA is over 25,000 words in length, but the novel’s just now reaching its denouement. It will definitely last through the 30,000 word benchmark, and could even see 35,000 words on the horizon before it’s done.
This is not a result of poor plotting or anything like that; it’s a result of me not wanting to hurry the story along. I want to give the narrative room to breathe and be a reflection of the lives of the main characters, rather than a headlong rush to the closing action and a hurried finish.
I’m fully committed to making even a short novel feel like a complete story, a complete and unique experience all its own. That is why SHADA is stretching out the way it is. Sure, I’d love to be done with the story, move on to the next step and start saying when the short novel will debut. But I can’t. Not until the story is done. That’s not something a writer wants to rush through.
Today, my second proof of MOST LIKELY arrived from CreateSpace and everything looked gorgeous. So I approved the book and, well, it’ll take a few days to show up on Amazon and a bit longer to proliferate out, but the book is available and has ISBN numbers that will allow those interested to order it from any bookstore, as well as online sources where print books can be found.
But for those who are impatient, it can be ordered right now, direct from CreateSpace, here. I have to say the book looks far better, far more impressive, far more professional, now that every chapter starts on a right-hand, odd-numbered page.
As for SHADA, the story has progressed a couple thousand more words and is showing signs it could run as long as 30,000 words instead of 25,000. So that’s my check-in for now.
Well, I have another “late” weekend update on my ROW80 goals. I haven’t been making the steady progress on SHADA that I’d hoped, but in my defense, my wife and I put a lot of energy into our move to Oregon late last week. We selected an apartment and secured a lease and have had to fill out a ton of paperwork online.
We did not have the budget or ability to go to Oregon to select an apartment in person, so we’re doing this kinda blind, but with all the information available online these days, we have a pretty good sense of the place. And last night I worked on a packaging task that look longer than I thought.
And of course, I was dealing with receiving my first proof of MOST LIKELY from CreateSpace, making corrections, submitting the changes, and updating the eBook versions to boot, so…
Yeah, bottom line, I’ve made progress but SHADA isn’t finished just yet.
However, I did write something like 2,500 words since last check-in, so I’m now over 20,000 words comfortably and can just relax into letting the story finish up without wondering whether I’ll reach my minimum length goal. I’ve met it.
The good news is that I’m closing in on the denouement, the climactic scene, which is, of course, the seance itself. It may not play out quite like longtime fans of paranormal fiction are accustomed to; but since The Body by Stephen King is my distant inspiration, that ought not be a huge surprise.
But there are many interesting developments in that scene, and in the closing action that follows. Hopefully no one will hate it! And that’s where things stand right now. See you all again on Wednesday!
Today was a red-letter day.
First, my wife and I secured a lease at our first-choice apartment complex in Oregon, meaning we now have an address, a move-in date, and everything that has been just a tad uncertain is now, sort of, set up. That’s a relief when it comes to my pending move.
However, and more importantly to this blog, my CreateSpace proof copy of MOST LIKELY arrived today. You can see how happy it made me:
That’s a rather sharp-looking image … and the book looks good, too! Heh.
Anyway, I’m sure you want a close-up of the real star of the show, so here goes:
In person, it feels like any other trade paperback. It has high-quality cover stock and a nice shiny finish.
And my cover artist, Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics, did a great job on the spine, and even on the back cover, making the whole affair look professional and sharp.
Now, the flash kind of hurt my shot of the back cover, but here it is for your edification:
And finally, I wanted you to see the interior, to get a feel for that. I designed the interior myself.
Hopefully most people will also think it looks sharp and professional.
Now that it’s all here, I have some final corrections to make and upload to CreateSpace. They’ll love that, I’m sure. And then I’ll go about finalizing it in CreateSpace and, I guess, it takes a few days for the trade paperback to show up on Amazon and elsewhere. But it is coming, folks! If you’re not an eReader fan, the paper version is, at most, maybe a week away!
So be sure to order your copy as soon as it’s out!
I’m not yet done writing the first draft of SHADA, but last night I passed a significant benchmark.
You see, for a long time, I’ve been describing SHADA, the first installment in the EMBER series, in this shorthand way: “It’s like Stephen King’s ‘The Body’ with a female cast.”
Now, I don’t mean that I’m templating King’s plot precisely, or that it follows his novel on a stroke-by-stroke basis. I only mean that it’s of a similar spirit; in his tale, four boys go hiking and camping on the final summer before they enter high school and grow apart, with the goal of seeing their first dead body.
In SHADA, I spin the tale of four girls who go hiking and camping in the final summer of their shared friendship. One of the girls is a year older, and another, a year younger, but two of them, including Ember, are in their final summer before high school. Their goal isn’t to see a dead body, but they do have a similarly dark goal… which I won’t reveal here just yet.
I’ve been having fun writing SHADA so far, telling a generous tale and building out the lives of these four girls. And even though I am not following “The Body” as a strict template, I’ve been feeling like SHADA has been lacking … something. Last night, I finally reached the point where I realized what it was.
At one point in THE BODY, the boys gather around a campfire and writer-to-be Gordie LaChance spins a tale of his own creation, the funny and yet very gross fable called, “The Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan.” While some have claimed the story is an example of King trying to wedge a tale he wrote when he was younger into another work, I don’t agree; the Lard-Ass story matches the tone and themes of “The Body” and tells us something about Gordie himself. Also, it’s exactly the sort of funny, gross-out tale a group of young boys might enjoy on a dark night gathered around a campfire.
As I reached that “gathered around a campfire” moment in my story, I knew my four girls needed a similar moment. They didn’t needs a tale like Lard-Ass Hogan’s, but they needed a story to tell.
Without planning, I began writing and the elements of just the right sort of tale for SHADA began to form in my mind. Before I started, I had already written for a couple hours (and close to 1,500 words), but I knew if I called it a night at that point, the moment would slip away from me.
So I began writing.
There was a mythology of Hope, WI, that I wanted to build out, revolving around a landmark that plays a key role in both SHADA, and the first long novel in the EMBER series, EMBER. That bit of mythology revolves around the Elk Ridge River Bridge.
At some point in the past, at least fifty years ago, a kid used the bridge as a diving area into the river, and died in one fateful dive. I had settled into the idea that this was just a parent’s tale, a way to get their kids to stay off the bridge and not engaging in the risky activity of diving off it, since the river, like most rivers, has shallow spots and then a drop-off into the deep, where a dive from that height would be safe.
But I began asking myself: what if there was a kid who’d died jumping off the Elk Ridge River Bridge? What would make him do such a thing? And how would his tale be told and retold so that, by the time my girls gather round the campfire to spin it again fifty or sixty years later, it has the feel of a campfire tale, and not the sad reality of a decades-old news headline?
Thus was born, in the wee hours of this very day, “The Legend of Abe Windler.”
I won’t go into the nature of Abe’s tale, here, but it’s a fascinating and tragic tale that fills out SHADA just right, and gives my work in progress that necessary “Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan” moment, while still maintaining my tale’s own unique identity and tone.
By the way: my Abe Windler tale added about 2,000 words to my word count, putting SHADA well into the 19,000-word length region and allowing me to see the 20,000-word benchmark nearby. That’s significant, because once my short novel has reached 20,000 words, I can just relax and know that it’ll be “long enough.” For pacing reasons, I’m now relatively sure SHADA will end up reaching closer to 30,000 words than 25,000. Too much tale left to tell.
But if you’re interested to read more about the Legend of Abe Windler now, good. Look for SHADA, coming soon to an e-Reader near you, later this summer!
(In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Aren’t I a stinker?”)
I’m a bit behind on finishing the draft of SHADA that I’ll be sending out to beta-readers soon, but there’s a reason for that. I’ve been finalizing the interior formatting of MOST LIKELY for CreateSpace. One would think it’s the simplest thing in the world, considering CS offers MS Word templates that a pre-programmed, and for the most part it is pretty simple.
Unless you have graphics on the book’s interior pages.
You see, Microsoft decided to be “helpful” as of MS Word 2007, but making Word auto-compress imported graphics. Why? Well, it seems Microsoft decided that most printers don’t really “use” dpi resolutions above 200, so to save file size, Word auto-compresses graphics you call into a Word document down to 200 dpi, at the maximum.
The problem is, CreateSpace needs all graphics to be at least 300 dpi to print well.
This is a known issue and the CreateSpace forums have discussed it at length. There are two or three different “fixes” to get Word to stop compressing the graphics down. The problem? I tried them all, and it doesn’t work on my copy of Word 2007. None of the fixes do.
Because even if Word doesn’t auto-compress, it compresses when you save to PDF. And Word 2007 doesn’t let you choose the resolution of the images when you do save to PDF. Because Microsoft knows better than you, and better than CreateSpace.
Now, in my book, only the title page has any graphic elements; the interior title page is something I could have done in a normal font without the use of graphics. But my wonderful cover artist had a top-notch idea to make the book look more professional: use the titling he created for the cover on the title page, so it’s a consistent look.
Wonderful idea, and I fell in love with the idea. But it requires graphics on that first interior format page. Ugh!
After trying to get Word to do something it stubbornly refused to do, which is to simply LEAVE MY GRAPHICS RESOLUTION ALONE, I started problem-solving by the use of other programs.
One person suggested using OpenOffice, because OpenOffice allows you to set graphics resolution when you save to PDF. I downloaded it, installed it, and tried it.
OpenOffice does allow that… but it couldn’t handle the WHOLE document, because it messed up the MS Word-specific CreateSpace template on other pages. But the title page looked fine and was at the proper resolution.
So I exported just the title page to PDF via OpenOffice. Wonderful!
But now I had one PDF for the title page, and one PDF for the whole document. And CreateSpace only allows you do submit a single PDF file for interior formatting, not multiple files. Ugh.
So I needed something that could merge the two PDF files. I found a freeware solution for that, called Adolix Split and Merge PDF. Which did indeed create a new, merged file. But I’d forgotten that the main document file still had the old title page. Grrr. I suppose in hindsight, I could have fired up MS Word, and re-created the main document file while excluding the title page. But by now it was past 3 AM and I wasn’t thinking clearly, so that didn’t occur to me.
So, I decided to try out a cheap alternative to Adobe Acrobat X, called PDF Pro 10. It had a 15-day trial period and I figured if it works, maybe I’ll get it, because it’s worlds cheaper than Acrobat X.
So I opened my new, merged PDF in PDF Pro 10, and deleted the second, low-res title page and re-saved the document. It worked! No watermark inserted, nothing terrible like that.
So I finally had something to submit to CreateSpace that might have the title page at the right resolution. I re-uploaded the new interior formatting PDF to CreateSpace and finally hit the sheets around 5 AM.
Around 2 PM today, CreateSpace emailed me: it went through pre-flight with no issues at last! So, my proof is now on its way to me. Yay! But what a load of crud, ultimately. If Microsfot would try a little less hard to be helpful, I could have done all this in MS Word 2007 and had some time left over Sunday night for this ROW80 check-in and for working on SHADA.
Good news for those of you wanting to try out MOST LIKELY. I’m hosting a 50-copy eBook giveaway at LibraryThing! If you’re a member over there and signed up for Library Thing Member Giveaways, hop over and claim your copy!
The giveaway is designed to spread great word-of-mouth about MOST LIKELY, as well as celebrate the pending print debut of MOST LIKELY later this month, through CreateSpace. (I’ll be opting into the Expanded Distribution thing over there, so any bookstore will be able to order MOST LIKELY in print, once it’s up and available!)
The physical book will be in 6×9 format, on lovely cream paper, with Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics handling the extended wrap-around cover design, building on the great work he already did on the eBook version. I’m hoping winners of the free copies will choose to review Most Likely on LibraryThing, as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and wherever else.
Solid progress is being made on SHADA, the first short novel in the EMBER series. More on that soon.
Okay, so when I started ROW80 Round 3, I was approximately 10,000 words into my EMBER prequel, the short novel I’ve decided to call SHADA. SHADA is a short novel is feels like it’ll wrap up somewhere between 25,000 to 35,000 words. That’s a decent length for a short novel.
As of check-in time tonight, I’m at 13,811 words, which is pretty close to reaching 2,000 words a day, which is what I’ve set my copy of FocusWriter 1.3.3 to track me at. I’m hoping to grow that total be leaps and bounds this week and be in a position to ship the tale off to my beta readers early next week.
I’d write about more than just this, but for the moment I’m in a good groove writing-wise and I also have some contract work I need to make progress on, so forgive me if I keep this brief. See you all Sunday, by which time I should be at around … 21,000 words or so and closing in on the resolution of SHADA.
Coming off what I have to count as a very successful Round 2 of ROW80, I was unsure how ambitious I wanted to make my goals for Round 3. After all, I will be moving my family to Oregon right smack dab in the middle of ROW80 this round, and since I’m starting out in Minnesota, this will be no small move.
The physical travel we have estimated at four to five days, since we want to take in some sights along the way. (Also, my 88-year-old father will be with us … he’ll be 89 by then … and we don’t want to press across country so hard that it stresses him out.)
Still, I have several things I want to accomplish this round, both before and after the move, even though the move itself will take me out of the game for a full week, and slow me down for at least an extra week on either side. So, with that in mind, here are my Round 3 goals.
1. Finish SHADA, the short novel prequel to EMBER.
2. Send SHADA to my beta readers.
3. Audition editors and select one to handle duties on SHADA, since my regular editor is unavailable.
4. Revise SHADA based on feedback and send to editor.
5. Revise SHADA based on editor’s feedback.
6. Publish SHADA to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.
7. One-week blog tour supporting release of SHADA.
8. Move to Oregon.
9. Following move, publish print/CreateSpace version of SHADA.
10. Work on EMBER whenever I have time to fill out Round 3. Attempt to finish EMBER by the end of Round 3.