4/6/06: All over including the shouting

Word count: 20971 | Since last entry: 573

First draft’s done. (Throws confetti.) Almost twenty-one thousand words — that’s three or four normal short stories. The next one will be shorter, I swear.

A snippet:

“Peri and I leaned on each other, watching her go. ‘We’d better haul in that parasail before it blows away,’ Peri said to me after a while. ‘Start setting it up as a tent.’ Her arm was warm across my shoulders. I’d forgotten how much taller she was than me.

“‘In a minute,’ I said. ‘I’m enjoying the view.’

“We stood side by side, watching the sun rise over our new home.”

The panel tonight at the Mt. Hood Community College library with Jay Lake, M.K. Hobson, Ken Scholes, Doug Lain, Josh English, David Goldman, and Damian Kilby went off well. We were very nearly outnumbered by the audience, who listened attentively and asked perceptive questions despite being mostly non-genre readers. I did too much of the talking, as usual. If you’ve been following Jay’s LJ you’ve gotten a good taste of the kinds of things we talked about.

One of the questions was about the difference between writing novels and short stories. As it happens, I just wrote a couple of paragraphs on that very subject for the Clarion alumni newsletter, which I quoted, and I include them here in hopes you will find them worthwhile.

For me, writing short stories is like building intricate little puzzle boxes. I can put them together out of little scraps of whatever wood I happen to have lying around, and if a piece doesn’t fit I can take the time to file or carve or sand it until it’s right. It doesn’t require a detailed plan, just a general idea of what I want it to turn out like. And if it doesn’t work — if the chisel slips or the wood has an unexpected knot, or I think it’s fine but no one wants to buy it — I can sigh and set it aside and move on to the next.

Writing a novel is more like building a house. It takes months or years. You don’t have to have a detailed plan when you start, but if you don’t, you must be aware that you may find yourself having to rip out the foundation and re-do it before you can move in. Whether or not you have a plan, you’ll have to order large quantities of wood and nails and glue and paint — probably more than you will be able to use (but, with luck, you can use some of the leftover bits to make puzzle boxes). It’s so big that you can’t possibly get all the little fiddly bits perfect, so you shouldn’t even try, but there is plenty of cabinetry and finish work where you can show off your craftsmanship skills. But if it doesn’t work — and there are a million ways it can fail, many more than for a little puzzle box — you’ve wasted a year of your life and you’re stuck with this enormous eyesore that no one wants. Even if it does work, after you’ve moved in you’ll constantly be hitting your head on the doorway that’s too low or catching your clothing on a railing that needed more sanding. Either way, you’ll vow that either you’re never going to do this again or that you’ll get it right the next time. Maybe both.

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