When I first started writing, I had a sentence in mind, and some ideas for where I wanted the story to go. I had no idea how to get there, of course, and hoped like hell I could make a creditable story out of it. I followed my heroes around, and occasionally they got themselves into a jam from which only my incredible authorly powers could save them. The perils of walking down a street, or getting dinner. Can’t have that, so let’s throw in a trapdoor to a netherworld dimension, or a monster attack. But, oh my god, how was I ever going to make this book stretch out to 200 pages?
It finally weighed in at over 400. It got where I expected it to go, but a lot more happened than I ever expected, and when I got there everything meant something else. Which is good.
Then I was asked to write a short story. A funny one. I’ve told the story before so I won’t do it here, but it eventually came in at 40 pages. The sequel to Chasing His Own Tale, the artfully-named and eventually-to-be-published Chasing His Own Tale 2 (trust me, it’s the subtitles that matter) is a bit longer, as I recall, although I don’t have the exact figures. It’s even a better story, IMHO, although my wife wonders how that could be possible. I’d like to think I improved a bit, what with time and experience and all.
Then I wrote Boys Will Be Boys, which was much harder. Why? Because the contest organizers had strict word limits on it. I don’t know what will happen in my stories until we get there, and while getting there is always fun and eventful, it could also take a while. Or not. Stone went on much longer than I expected, but my latest, St. Martin’s Moon, is a fully-fleshed out werewolf novel at less than 250 pages, and for a while I was thinking I had done something wrong. Or maybe I just got less chatty. Now that I think of it, that sort of fits the book, which begins with people living very circumscribed lives due to a variety of curses.
My stories are like my characters, hopefully like me: they grow as I tell them. Even Off the Map, written about a real person and hence more of an adventure than an exercise in character development, was a bit of a struggle, in spite of its higher word limit. Limits are a bit of a challenge to me, and as Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau once said, “I am always up to ze challenge”, only he said it in an outrageous French accent. Paradoxically, writing for a confined space stretches my abilities. Just a little while ago, during the whole six-word story craze, I actually came up with a good one. Now I’m aiming for that middle zone, between 6 and 5000.
Keep reading, I’ll get there.