Story afterthoughts

I’ve had a bit of time to simmer on things now, shortly after finishing the five-chapter mini-adventure I decided to write just for the heck of it. I planned for it to do a few things, and when I thought about it, I figured it was worth taking a second to document what it actually did for me. So here’s a short rundown.

Goal 1: I wanted it to motivate me.
I deliberately picked characters I know and love, who I also hadn’t been able to write anything for in a while, since I finished the first draft of the last book in their series a while back. After a while, characters become kind of like friends, and when you complete their story and leave them behind, you miss them. You miss their adventures. You want more. So I decided to do something that fit in between books, part of an adventure that’s hinted at but never addressed openly in the series. I may do more with that idea in the future, but I don’t really plan on writing a book 3.5 (or 4.5, depending on how I end up splitting the series) and didn’t want to get bogged down in that. So it was a single shot adventure, revisiting people I thought would be easy to write.

Therein lies Problem 1: It wasn’t easy.
When I sat down to write the story, I didn’t have a plan. One of the most frequent pieces of advice I get when I get stuck is to just write something different. Just sit down and write. Just do something. And if that works for you, then hey, that’s great–but it doesn’t work for me, and I really ought to know that by now. I need structure to keep me focused and inspired. I need to know where I’m going, or I never go anywhere. My story stalled out fast and I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels. I don’t feel like the end result was very good, and a large part of that is because it wasn’t focused. Without that focus, I couldn’t really get in deep with the characters, even though I love them. And I couldn’t stay on target very well, ending up with a story that was probably a lot longer than it really needed to be. So that’s one hard lesson learned, I guess. I work best with an outline, always have, always will, and I’m going to refrain from trying to survive without one from now on.

Goal 2: I wanted it to get me back in practice.
I haven’t really written since my great uncle passed away in November. I never expected his passing would hit me so hard. It completely sapped my inspiration. I was already feeling pretty burned out after writing and publishing more books in 2017 than was healthy for me, so the end result was me not writing at all.
I needed to do something to get back in practice, but nothing sounded appealing. Part of that is for reasons I’ll explain another time in another post, but mostly I figured I just needed to get back to something I knew I could do.

Problem 2: Getting back in practice is hard when your plate is already full.
I never had a lot of time to write. I get about an hour in the evenings where I can do it, but I have to share that time with other projects, too. So I wasn’t able to get back into what I consider “full time” writing, writing every day–and I felt like my writing quality suffered for it. Coupled with not really knowing where I was going with the story,  it was incredibly hard to get anything done. I didn’t write every day, and I didn’t get back into that practice, either. Getting back on the horse is hard, especially when it never quit bucking.

Goal 3: I wanted it to teach me something.
About writing, about myself… whatever. Something. I wanted to walk away with more experience. This is the only place I felt the project actually succeeded, too. I decided to try to exaggerate one piece of writing advice I’ve frequently read: start a scene late, leave it early.

The “leave it early” is what I decided to focus on. While I generally write until a chapter feels like it has relayed enough information, I started this project while re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia. I was reading them to my daughter for the first time, and you notice a lot of things when you’re reading out loud that never draw your attention otherwise. One thing that really stood out with a little person on my lap was Lewis’s method of leaving a scene early–his chapters are not their own little stories within the story, like they are in many books. His chapters often end right smack in the middle of something big happening. Sometimes it’s when a dire question is being asked, and the answer is in the next chapter. Sometimes it’s when someone is faced with life and death, and you don’t know if they’ve been killed until you turn the page. But that’s the important part of this piece of advice: you turn the page. If the goal is to get the reader to keep reading, then learning to end every chapter with a cliffhanger, instead of a resolution, is one sure-fire way to make sure they keep pushing on. Getting to use it in practice is totally different from knowing about it, though, and it means that if I want to utilize this in the future, I’ll need to learn how to incorporate it into my outlines.

For all that the project was a struggle for me, though, there were a few fun things that came from it.

I developed the idea for the city by building it with Lego bricks. My daughter helped. It was crazy fun.

I got to spend some time doodling things for some of the chapters, which reminded me how much I miss drawing.

I had ideas along the way for other stories I plan to write, too.

But I’ll talk about those another time.

In the meantime, I’m considering compiling the five chapter story into eBook format. It’s a whopping 12,541 words long once all is said and done, which makes it a novelette on its own, and it might make a nice addition to my collection of eBooks available, even if it’s only a small bonus download available here.

What do you think? Worth the effort, or no?

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