When Stories Have a Mind of Their Own

The past few weeks have been taken over with holiday recovery, that icky sinus crud that has attacked everyone in the area, and this one persistent story that seems to have a mind of its own.

First, a little news. I have two short stories that will be available in the near future. “Those Magnificent Stars” will appear on February 12 in Perihelion SF. This is an online magazine and is free to read. It focuses on hard sci-fi, so there’s no fantasy to be found here. My piece is a story about a teenage girl whose only birthday wish is to take an excursion outside the dome to see the stars.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration

NGC 602 and Beyond. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – ESA/Hubble Collaboration

The second story to be published is “Princess Thirty-Nine”. This is a fantasy tale and will appear in the Universe Horribilis anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing. This is a themed anthology about an uncaring or hostile universe. My story follows a captive princess and her struggle to understand the world from her limited perspective.

Now back to that story. It started out as a fun exercise. I wanted to take a break from trying to craft a “more serious” story. I decided to write a short adventure tale about space pirates. Somehow a plot device involving nuclear physics crept in. It never managed to get beyond the opening pages, but it was fun. I put it away and went back to other tasks.

A couple of months ago I resurfaced from a writing hiatus after Hurricane Sandy swept across our area. My husband and I were lucky that we only sustained minimal damage with a few downed branches and buckled siding. I rewrote a fantasy story and kicked it out the door (submitted it to an online magazine). I needed a fun project again, and that silly space pirate story called to me. It needed to be written from a different point-of-view, perhaps with an added complication to the plot and more depth to the characters. Maybe it would end up at novelette or novella length. I started typing.

Last week I found myself floundering as the plot branched into avenues that I had not fully considered. I decided to outline the plot threads to help extricate myself from this mess.

Now I have a novel synopsis.

I don’t need another novel idea, but there it is. All laid out in pretty synopsis format. Half the science behind the fiction is physics, half is biomedical. The main character is clear in my head and the secondary ones are lining up to tell me about themselves. So I guess I’m writing a novel. Maybe I’ll finish this one since it seems to have developed a mind of its own.

For any writers out there, do you ever find that one of your stories takes off like this? Do you ever have the opposite experience in which a novel turns into a short story?

Many well-known novels began as short stories (Anne McCaffrey with Weyr Search/Dragonflight; Orson Scott Card with Ender’s Game). Do you ever read a novel and wish that you had only read a short section of it? Is there a particular short story that you would love to see extended into a novel?

Building a Plot

There are several different ways that an author can build a novel out of a loose collection of ideas, characters, and plot elements. After reading about the experiences of other writers, this seems to break down into two basic categories: Outliners and Pantsers.

An Outliner has to figure out the scenes or chapters that the story will follow in some minimum level of detail. The ending is known before the writing has begun. A Pantser takes the opposite approach, settling only a few aspects of the novel-in-her-head before sitting down to write by-the-seat-of-her-pants. The ending may be a complete mystery to the author, or while the conclusion may already have been visualized, the author does not know the path that the characters will take to get there.

In my own story-telling projects, I’ve always thought that I identified better as an Outliner. I need to know how it all fits together before I can begin. Who are my characters and why are they going to act the way they do? What difficulties will they face that will force them to grow or change? While there certainly may be times that a Pantser technique could work for me, given what I’ve discovered through several unfinished writing projects is that it more often will not.

As I sat down in mid-February to begin putting the details down for my current novel project, I’ve found that the process of outline creation is no easy feat. I have a character and a disturbing event. I have a setting with the different cultures, sub-cultures, and factions. The magic is roughed out and the monsters are coming to life in my head. Two main antagonists are ready to release their minions. Yet, that outline is a vague list of events and possibilities, haziest in the middle.

How does an author figure out that middle (muddle)? I’m not sure yet, but I’ve decided that I’m an alternating Outliner-Pantser-Outliner. Here’s how I hope it will go:

1) Outline until I can’t stand it anymore.

2) Write until I run out of outline.

3) Stand back and look at what I’ve done (eeek!).

4) Outline the next section.

5) Repeat from step #2.

I suspect that it will turn out messier than this. So, for other authors out there, how do you plan your plot and scenes? Leave some comments – it’s fun!

*   *   *   *   *

I would like to thank the Woodbridge Science Fiction and Fantasy Meetup group for pointing me toward WordPress and spurring me to create this web site.

Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 303 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: