Monday, October 15, 2012

Switching Gears- Literary Ones


Breaking down the novel into bite sized morsels, or how to pretend you aren't writing a novel.

The idea of the short story is super appealing to most writers. Probably because it has the word short in it. Short sounds like this writing project could have a completion date in the current week, instead of the current decade. This appeals to the novelist.

T. C. Boyle said, "A short story is like a toothache and you must drill it and fill it. A novel is more like bridgework."

I heard Diana Gabaldon discuss her writing process once. She never outlines and doesn't write chapters in order, but random chapters that she later stitches together. She said that on her computer she'll have multiple files open at the same time and as she gets stuck in one project, she hops over to the other one and works there until she gets unstuck, then jumps back to the original piece. This may explain why the woman writes about time travel and men in kilts.

Yet, I found myself doing the same thing with my WIPs. I always have a short story going, and I use flash fiction and poetry to warm up my brain in the morning before I even open the novel file. I also walk around and read out loud, but that is neither here nor there.

When a paragraph in the trucker mystery gets sticky- in that I can't get rid of it and I can't fix it, I pull part of the paragraph out, stick in a blank doc and riff on it. This generally allows me to either find the way out or stab it in the left eye and leave it for dead.

Once, a single shoddy line pulled from a WIP became an entire sestina. (Super duper extra points if you knew what a sestina was without Googling it.)

The short story or flash fiction completion also serves another purpose. You can submit your work into the world, for glory and prestige or at the very least, let your agent know you're working.

There are also the famous novels told in stories sort of indie books. Perhaps you're writing one of those. I wrote an entire novel where every chapter had a really long title. I used that as a sort of permission to compose a short piece every ten pages. The problem came when I had to piece it all together, Then, I had the stitching problems of Gabaldon, without her mathematical mind.

I've heard about writers who compose stories on Twitter, even been invited to add a few of my own to the feed. This might seem like a good idea, and could work for you, but for me, I'd be clicking the ads and shopping for vintage snip toe Old Gringo cowgirl boots before I could post The End.

Whatever your process while noveling, you're probably storying— you just don't know it—the notes you're making as you shower, the long-winded gripes on Facebook, the silly observations you make on your phone in the checkout line at the grocer, the edits in the margin of your manuscript. They are all telling a story.

Again, TC Boyle says it perfectly, "The joy of the story is that you can respond to the moment and events of the moment. The drawback is that once you've completed a story, you must write another even though you find yourself bereft of talent or ideas. The joy of the novel is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. The horror of the novel, however, is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow."






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