Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ask the Authors: Tuesday

When you get an idea for a story, how do you know that there's enough there for a book? Or just a short story? Or maybe it's just a fleeting thought that can't grow into a story at all? How do you decide?

When I write a novel, I am not writing a story. I am writing stories—plural. And the thing that makes it a novel is that these stories intertwine and resonate and conflict with one another. The novels that I am most satisfied with usually have at least four conflicts (one major and three minor) going on. And to tell you the truth, most better short stories have at least two storylines working with one another. So I look for that narrative depth—an orchestra of stories as opposed to a solo or a duet. If I have that, I know that I have a novel in the oven.– Tom Morrisey

I have a storyline right now that I'm noodling on. At first, I would have told you "short story." After a week of noodling, I thought "novella." Now I'm convinced it's a full-length novel. The number of characters involved and the complexity of the conflicts usually determine story length. - Liz Curtis Higgs

Because I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (or as Al Gansky so suavely terms it, an “intuitive writer”) many times, I get a few thousand words into a book and and begin to fear there’s not enough there for the full-length novel that was contracted. But I’ve found I can always make a story long enough if I make my characters interesting enough. If I can make the reader love my characters, they won’t care so much whether every single thing that happens to them is front-page newsworthy. –Deborah Raney

The stakes have to be high enough. In my book, Plot & Structure, I talk about three kinds of death: personal, psychological, professional. Unless at least one of these is on the line, I don't have enough for a book. - James Scott Bell

I'm bombarded by what ifs on a daily basis. That's simply the way I view the world. I'll see a flicker of emotion on someone's face, a drop of dew on a spider web that makes me think metaphorically, see something as I jog that gets my brain turning... But many of these never go anywhere. Some of them, however, strike me deep in the gut. It's a sense that I will use the thought someday, although it may be books away. Funny, but these thoughts I don't forget. They can sit in my head for years. -Brandilyn Collins

I have other people give me ideas that won’t work as a fully realized novel. My ideas work out really nicely. -Patricia Hickman

All my ideas turn into books, simply because I don't know how to write short. When I try to write a short story, it quickly becomes more complicated with subplots. The one time I did complete a short story, it was painful, and I didn't like the finished product until months after it was published. I can always be assured that any thread of an idea can become a complete novel with a few brainstorm sessions with friends. -Hannah Alexander

When an idea or concept just will not let me go, then I know I must write the book. Not every idea when it first comes has enough conflict or layers for a full length novel, but if I am intrigued by the characters, then simply listening to them will expand the idea and bring me the conflict needed for a novel. - Robin Lee Hatcher

I actually posed this question because I wonder how others decide. I'm personally grateful for the book Structuring the Novel (Meredit and Fitzgerad)that does offer some way through this. But so far for me when I thought I had maybe one book, I've ended up with three. Maybe writing many books is easier than a short story! Wasn't it Aristotle who apologized to his friend for writing a long letter. He said he didn't have time to write a short one. I'll be interested in the other responses for this one. -Jane Kirkpatrick

I just ... know. It's something that simply "clicks" with me. -BJ Hoff

When an idea comes to me, I don’t know whether or not it will ever fully blossom into a novel (I don’t write short stories, so that eliminates that possibility). I write down the initial thought, stick it in a file and get back to my WIP (work in progress). Given time, the idea will either disappear or begin to grow on its own. If I sense it growing, I’ll start to pay attention to it when it’s time to begin working on a new book. -Ann Tatlock

Every novel or novella I've written has started as one little "What if" scenario or something I saw or read about. Some event, or some interaction between people, something that caught my attention. But those seeds, when watered with time and imagination, always spread roots and sprout into stories that go far beyond what I'd originally concepted. So my feeling is that as long as you have the spark of an idea, you've got enough to build on. -Karen Ball

I think you have to look at it another way. You have to decide to make it more. So, for example, if I have a character in my head, I make a decision to create a great plot to encompass this character. If I have a plot idea but no character, I make a decision to think through a great character to go along with the plot. I think often times writers believe that whatever pops into their head is the final version. I see it as the very beginning, something that needs time to cultivate. I truly believe that any idea can evolve far enough to make it into a novel. It just takes creativity and time. An example from my own work is Boo. Never in a million years would I have dreamed of all the supporting cast and the town called Skary. The original idea was about a horror writer who converted to Christianity. Everything else sprang from that. - Rene Gutteridge


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Thanks to each of you for sharing your insights.

Jane, you said, "Wasn't it Aristotle who apologized to his friend for writing a long letter (because) he didn't have time to write a short one?" Actually, that's attributed to it Blaise Pascal, fifteenth century mathematician and religious philosopher. Thanks for using one of my favorite quotations to remind us that it takes work for a writer to take out the dull parts.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great advice in your answers. Thanks.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

I've found Rene's advice has happened in my writing. I need to let the idea cultivate a while. Even when I start writing, what I have planned out may change. But that's half the fun!


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