Letting Them Breathe

breatheSix months later, plus a couple of breaks, and the hectic nature of work, but I’m finally nearing the end of the yellow brick road on this new novel. The hardest part is finishing the first draft, especially when the world tends to intrude on the fictional more often than not.

It started with the challenge, to create 50,000 words in 30 days, way back in November, and I accomplished that with no problems. The words just flowed more often than not, my imagination soaring and the characters coming to fruition as characters tend to do. The month flew by, and I was over 60,000 words when it did, but once the rush was over I still had to finish the novel.

Because it’s not enough to just stop on November 30 and pronounce it all done, to let it collect dust on a flash drive, never to be seen from or heard from again. I’ve done that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. These characters want to live. They want to breathe. They want to be out in the world, living their lives. And I will oblige them, but I just want to make sure I’m faithful enough to them before unveiling them. It’s my job as an author.

So I’ve been working, in bits and pieces, over these past six months, trying to finish the story, to take them to a satisfactory conclusion that makes me feel something inside. It’s been a difficult process, not because the words won’t come (because they always do), but because I let the real world intrude way too often. Without a strict timeline it got easier every night to just let it slide, to say I will work on it the next night, and like dominoes the nights fall one by one, and no writing on the novel gets done.

But somehow here I am, and I’ve been writing, really writing, on the novel for the past five days. My word count has gone up drastically, but more importantly my characters are progressing. They’re stressing out, and falling in love, and getting hurt, and just simply living their lives again after an interminable pause. And I’m falling in love all over again myself, with this world, with these characters, and with this storyline.

This is the point I always get to in my novels, when I know I’m nearly done, and I’m dying to reach the end, but I know I’ll miss having them so close to me. It’s a wonderfully thrilling part, though, a culmination of so much time spent together, the words an extension of myself. They always will be. Now it’s time to finish up this draft, to begin the editing process, to let this story live on its own, to let these characters breathe on their own.

And write the next one.

Sam

The Longer Stories

33,043. That’s the word count on the novel I’m currently writing. It’s crazy how word counts have so much meaning for me now, and they meant absolutely nothing to me before I published my first book. On this side of the looking glass things are much different than they were from the other side. I’m proud of that number too, because it means I’ve written a novella already. It’s more than a short story, but less than a full-length novel at this point (unless I’m John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway), so it has a heft and a weight to it that is satisfying in many ways.

storyI’ve written several first drafts of several novels before. They are as complete as they are going to be right now because I’m no longer sketching them out anymore. Perhaps eventually I will come back to each one and give it the tender loving care that it deserves, but I’ll have to be in the mood for that, and so many new stories come into my mind all the time that need telling as well. But yes, as first drafts go, this one I’m writing right now is solid, perhaps even more solid than the first draft of my most recent published novel.

Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this novel writing thing.

For years I considered myself a storyteller, but those stories were short fiction pieces. 20,000 words or fewer. Often times they were short shorts. 10,000 words or fewer. Sometimes they were only a page, but a highly detailed page with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. But that’s where they ended, and where I thought the line had been drawn, thick and uncrossable. I would generally tell my story, it would end, the word count would be slightly over 12,000, and I would file it away with the rest of my short stories, I thought never to see the light of day again. (More to come on that later.)

With Detours, my first novel, though, things just flowed, and as I hit and passed 20,000 words I knew I was in uncharted territory. But I didn’t look back. I just kept looking ahead, and I kept writing. Before I knew it I was past 30,000 words and I understood finally that I was looking at my first novel, that the time had come. When I finished the book, edited it, added more dialogue, and finally pronounced it ready to be published, I knew I had found a new way of writing that I would have forever.

30000

I’ve written at least the first drafts of five novels since then. Two of those novels have since been published. But for me that invisible line of 30,000 words still speaks to me. It’s when I realized my first novel was indeed a novel, and it’s held true for every one since. By the time I got to 30,000 with Leaves in Fall, my most recent novel, I had already fallen in love with the town and the characters who populated it. It’s more than just a moment for me. It’s one I feel I have to observe now. It’s powerful.

When I’m done with this novel, which sits at 33,043 words and counting, I’ve decided I’m editing and compiling my short stories from way back to the present. I’m going to dig through my archives, I’m going to create a few more, and I’m going to put together a book of short stories, because they were my first love, and because it’s time. I know me, though. I’ll probably be writing my next novel in between the editing and compiling too. And I know I’ll still be counting the words.

Because while I’m still a storyteller, the longer stories have begun calling my name just as much as the shorter ones. Shhhh. Don’t tell the shorter ones. They’ll get jealous, and I can’t have that.

Sam

Cutting Room Floor: Why?

why-me11

There’s something to be said for having an overflow of material for a new novel. Being overstocked with chapters, pages, characters, and scenarios can be a real pain, though, when I sit down to begin the arduous task of editing. That’s because I’m in love with every single one of my chapters, pages, characters, and scenarios in each and every one of my drafts. But they can’t all survive the knife, the delicate cutting that eventually reveals the survivors, who are looking pretty svelte if I do say so myself. The ones who make it out alive are lucky, and the ones who are left behind on the cutting room floor look up at me and always ask “Why?”

I always have my reasons, yet every single reason doesn’t truly answer the question. Sometimes the only reason a character gets the axe is because I have too many characters who are similar or who are just taking up space. So I’m sorry Colin for leaving you to fend for yourself. Occasionally I kill off a character because I was never able to find his/her voice. Forgive me Susie for writing you into a corner I wasn’t adept enough to get you out of without wasting too many pages on what would have eventually amounted to an unnecessary detour.

Then there are the characters who have done absolutely nothing wrong. They weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. They weren’t just there to take up space, and they had a distinct voice. They were just unlucky that the plot hinged on others and not on them. If they had just come along later in the process I could have gladly just spun them off into their own novels instead of this one. But they came early, they hung around, and then I had to say goodbye while they looked up at me with those accusatory looks.

And I’m sorry. I really and truly am. Sometimes these characters do show up again, fully fleshed out, in other pieces, be they other novels or short stories, or poems, or even in one of my two complete plays. Usually if I resurrect them from the ashes of their own demise it’s for reasons far beyond what they could have accomplished in the novel in question. Most times when they come back it’s to redeem themselves in my eyes, even if they never did anything wrong to begin with. They’re still my children, and they still deserve a chance to prove themselves.

To those who come back bigger and better than ever, that’s the answer to “Why?” Because it just wasn’t your time before. It wasn’t your time to shine, and later is. But to those who never show up again, whose ghosts still haunt me from the graveyard of lost characters, perhaps your time will come too. For now, though, there is no real answer to “Why?” For now there are just more questions that perhaps you could have answered if I had left you in as written.

But where’s the catharsis in that?

Sam

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