Sometimes when you’re writing stories can get away from you; other times you just follow along and let it take you wherever it’s going . . . aaaaaaand sometimes its both. About six weeks ago I started a story I’ve had fluttering around in my head for a while. I’d tried to write the short story last year, but wasn’t happy with where it was starting off. It just wasn’t coming out right, so I scrapped it and waited to see if the story would come to me again in some other form I’d be happier with. And it did.
I made time when I could to write what I could of the story and it kept telling its tale as stories do. I wasn’t sure where it would go at first and then it got its shape and I had a vague idea where it was headed and was able to pick this hazy thing in the not too far distance that was the ending. I figured it would end up being about 5000 words, a decent, pretty standard length for a short story.
And then the thing started happening that writers will tell you about that you can’t really teach or even explain when writing. The characters not only start to feel real, they start to act like real people and do things, make decisions, carry out actions you had no clear idea they were able or going to do. In your mind you had a vague concept of where a certain conversation might be headed, and then one of the characters says something totally surprising that actually shocks you as the writer, because you had not clue not only that they wouldn’t say it, but that they couldn’t say it. You didn’t think it was in them, but once it’s out there on the page you realize it’s totally part of their character and it’s just made your story a whole lot better. The same can happen in any sort of action scene where you have the vague idea of the moves and steps the scene will take and then something totally strange happens that just surprises you, so you follow it along and are shocked by it as you realize why it happened and how your story just got a lot better and became more realistic.
So there I was working on the story in the time I could make available, and it was doing its surprising twists and turns making it cooler and more interesting by the page, and I just watched it tear on past that 5K mark and keep on going without slowing. I figured, well maybe it’ll end up being kind of a longish story, plus I could always edit it down a bit if need be, no problems there. And then it going on and on and on, passing 8K and carrying merrily on it’s way to 10,000 words.
Now, there are two ways you can write a story. You can force it, making it go where you want it to, jamming out the dialog you want your characters to use, and carve out the exact ending you want and demand. But you’ll end up with something that will feel artificial, stunted and a complete lie to you the writer. Or you can have a nebulous idea of what you want to write and then let the words and characters do what they want to do and be happy to tag along for the ride and see where it takes you. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out, sometimes it becomes something truly unique and amazing that you never could’ve “forced” into being.
So there the story was zooming pass 10K and I could still see the hazy ending it was aiming towards and we were finally starting to circulate it and then one night I was able to get it all out and put the last sentence on the story ending it at 12,780 words.
Yeah, a little lengthy for a “short” story. I expect when I come back to edit it I’ll be able to get it down under 12K and the good news is TOR.com accepts fiction up to that length.
So you never really know where a story is going to take you and the important thing is not to hold back and try to control your imagination, but just let it take you to new and exciting places.