Oops: Discovering an old WIP and Thoughts On Novellas

Up until now, I’ve listed Code Name: Future on my Works In Progress page as the next place I’d be devoting my efforts.  I opened up my project file for Future a few weeks ago, intent on reading through my notes and figuring out where I was.  While doing so, however, I stumbled upon another story I began in late 2007 and never finished.

“Oh crap!” I said.

Seeing as Future is still in planning and world-building stages, I’ve decided to try and sneak in work on this in-progress story and see if I can finish the darn thing.

I’m calling it Code Name:  Stranded.

All I’ll say about it story-wise at the moment is that I’m trying very hard not to let it turn into a Good Omens wanna-be.  I’m neither Neil Gaiman nor Terry Pratchet, and they told that story better than I ever could anyways.

“Not Good Omens, not Good Omens” is almost a sort of litany that runs through my mind as I’m working on it.  Will I succeed in both avoiding imitation and writing something worth reading?  Only time will tell.  And until Time–that fickle, fickle guy–decides to talk, I’m just going to try my damn best to write more of the story.

I never thought that the Stranded story would be a novel or novel-length and I counted that as sort of a blessing.  In the writing of it, though, I’ve come 20,000-something words and I’m not close to done yet.  And that’s assuming I’ll know when I’m done and know where I’m going.  Which I don’t.  I’m sort of stuck on the story, which is why it’s sat unfinished for these past years.  I dust it off every now and then and try to write more, but I’m still missing major parts of the setup for it.

It looks like this thing’s shaping up to be a novella of sorts.  This is both good and bad.

It’s bad because novellas tend to get the short end of the stick: people like reading them but not necessarily publishing them.  They’re too long for short story markets and too short for novel markets.  And so on.

It’s good because I realized today that being a novella dictates certain expectations for the story and the writing due to the limited wordcount.  There simply isn’t enough “room” to do everything you do in a novel.  As such, I realized that the “rules for a novella” (so to speak) might help me overcome the difficulties I’m having in writing it.  These are things such as

  • a minimal cast
  • mostly one major sort of conflict
  • minimal amount of subplots (sorta related to the previous point)
  • should end in growth of a character (which checks with what I intended for the storyline)
  • usually lacks discrete chapters (Stranded seems too short to make each section stand individually as a chapter)

and so forth.  So I’m revisiting my notes and ideas for this story with the above guidelines in mind.  Even if there’s no “eureka!  I’ve found the story!” and subsequent deluge of daily word counts, the guidelines provide a target to aim for and relieve any sort of guilt that might creep in that the story isn’t novel-y enough.

I’m usually a firm believer in the “just keep getting words down” camp of What To Do When You’re Stuck On A Story.  But that hasn’t worked for this one.  Part of the reason is that I never had more than a tenuous idea of What Was Going On in the story in the first place.  And so I got 20,000-something words into it without more than a vague idea of the shape of things, trusting that more would come and things would solidify as I went.  But it didn’t.  And so those 20,000-something words were fueled mostly by character banter.  Which was a lot of fun to write, but it’s felt as if my characters were just amusing themselves on a smoke break until I figured out what the hell was going on.

And so I spent most of today going back to the basics: brainstorming story landmarks, thinking about character motivations, why are things like they are, and so forth.  I even skimmed through some of the books I have around on writing and used their questions as springboards for fleshing things out.  I’ve felt as if I’m waiting for another idea to come along, like some second chunk of story-grade uranium that I can ram into the first one to get some sort of word explosion that resembles a narrative.

At the end of the day, I think I had a few ideas on the overall setup that might get me back on track.  I’ll probably do a little more brainstorming and note-taking and whatnot before I try to take up the actual writing.  I’ve finished enough pieces to believe that this isn’t just a stalling tactic on my part.

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