Charles Yallowitz has a great post today. His topic is extremely powerful characters and their use of restraint. I recommend reading it for his topic, and the comments that went along with it. Here's the link, Legends of Windemere.
Charles' post got me thinking about the wonderful character struggle this creates. Then I started relating it to my own recent efforts. This post was inspired by Charles, but is going to be a different topic.
Most of you know that I've been writing short stories. Last Spring, I worked on a novel and some short stories at the same time. Charles' wonderful layers will enhance a novel, and in his case a whole series.
A novel needs this kind of conflict. The main character struggles with more than just defeating evil. Things gnaw at his soul. When the only power you have is a nuclear bomb, it's challenging to deal with a termite invasion. This makes for some good internal tension.
I'm free writing this tonight, but this must be my point: novels need more, and we're not talking about more words. They needs more story.
I fell in love with short stories years ago, but they almost disappeared. Today, they're coming back in a big way. They usually involve someone with a problem either overcoming it or succumbing to it – in a hurry.
I've made this mistake myself, so I get to talk about it. (I've read a few too.) We get a great idea, and find out our story is concluding at about 50,000 words. The first thought, after blind panic, is to add more words. This is how we get novels that describe every course of a drawn out meal. It's how we get tons of description. It's how we make our story boring.
Charles beefs up his characters. (Never a bad idea.) His character has an internal problem. He has to worry that he's not keeping up with his companions, or he's risking them when he could exercise more power. This adds more than words to a story.
Novels need a bit more complication. Maybe you need more than one hurdle to overcome. Maybe there is a competing hero, but he isn't a bad guy.
I've never had a series length idea. That doesn't mean I can't learn from a series type writer. What is needed is more story. Short stories might be about trimming to the essentials, or sticking to one plot element. Longer works need more plot elements, possibly more characters, and more complications. They don't need another dessert course after supper.
Story lengths are just extra tools in the writer's toolbox. Self publishing made them viable tools once more. If your story won't carry a whole novel, maybe it makes a better novella. If you really want a novel, add more story, not more fluff. If you have a cool idea that just won't come together, try it as a short story or even a micro fiction. In today's world you might find a market for almost anything.
I think Jim Butcher is a master of this. His Dresden Files involve Harry solving multiple disasters. The basic idea is: What's better than one major villain? Two major villains. (Plus a pending natural disaster, and an angry love interest.)
The last Dresden novel I read involved no less than four pending disasters. In some cases winning in one corner involved failing in another. Then, of course, there are always a few things screwed up in Harry's personal life. Still, he manages to bring about some measure of success.
I'm free writing this tonight, so I'm rambling a bit. If you work with me a little, there are some points.
- Story lengths are not detriments. They are tools to use when we need them.
- Longer works need more story. This isn't about extra characters or more situations. It is about more complications, emotions, and twists.
What do you guys think? Am I on to something here, or am I off my rocker? Maybe it's both and my Life story makes a better novel.