Writing Challenge

I’ve been given a writing challenge, and it’s been taking up a good deal of my spare time. Did I say spare time? Wow! That’s a joke.

Yeah, I know, I don’t often mention the projects I’m working at because I really don’t want to bore you all, but I’m making an exception with this post, maybe get a few opinions along the way.

Many years back I wrote a short story that had me a bit curious. The story itself had ended but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know the reasons behind a certain character’s actions. Why would she do what she did? As a mother myself, I knew this woman had to have a good reason for abandoning her children. The question niggled at me. Finally, I wrote another story that satisfied me for a short time until I became greedy and wanted to know even more. It’s like eating potato chips. You can’t just nibble on a few, you keep picking at them until they’re gone.

The result? A collection of linked stories.

Needless to say, a collection of linked stories is about a hard to pitch as a regular old collection, and while many of the stories have been published individually in literary magazines, the collection, as it stands, is just gathering dust balls, big ones! In fact, to be truthful, I really didn’t send it out very many times and as any writer knows that’s the way NOT to get published.  I know, I know, pretty darn lame of me.

But recently, it was suggested I turn this collection of linked stories into a novel, using different perspectives, since many of the stories have been written in the first person. Oh happy day, could there still hope for this dust-gathering collection? Can it be ressurrected after all?

Easy peasy, right?

Maybe, maybe not. I’m still trying to figure this out. The challenge at the moment is deciding where the story begins, exactly whose story it is, and if the story belongs to several people or one person, not to mention finding a common thread, as I work through the plot. Can I use any of the previously written material, or do I need to start from scratch? A whole lot of questions swirling in my very confused, for the moment, brain. Short stories are an entire story, beginning, middle and ending, contained into a few thousand words. A novel is a little more involved, as you all know, but each chapter needs to move the story along.

So here’s my challenge at the moment. I haven’t yet decided if converting a bunch of linked stories into a novel will flow along as smoothly as I’d like it to, but I’m sure going to give it a go.

So what are your thoughts, do you think is it fairly easy to write a novel around linked stories since the character already exist? Should I try and use some of the existing stories or start all over again? Where are you in your writing journey? Have any new challenges come your way recently?

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22 Comments

  1. Maybe you’re over-thinking it all. :) Perhaps it would be easier if you adopted the same attitude you did before; wanting to uncover more of the story. Is the common thread the mother? Or perhaps the mother abandoning her children? Maybe the common thread is one of the short stories!

    I think that writing a novel when the characters already exist, has to be easier to a point. The lives are there… now it’s your job as a writer to let the characters tell their stories. Since the suggestion of turning this into a novel was based on the short stories in the first place, I think it makes sense to use as much of the original stories as you’re able. Think of them as the skeleton of the story.

    I make it sound so easy, don’t I? :)

    Reply
    • Over-thinking, who me? Do you suppose? I’m finding that the more I write, the more the characters revealed about themselves and it will all be useful. I’ve also chosen to use one POV from a family member who would be still considered an outsider from the family, but who loves to give all the gossipy details about some of the things that happened in the past. Since there’s so much more involved to get this to novel length, I’ve really been needing to add much more than was in the original stories. In fact, some of the stories are being woven into a totally different narrative as they were written third person and this novel will be all first person.

      I am trying not to over-think. I’m trying to let the characters lead me for awhile, perhaps not even worry where in the novel they belong, but rather letting them settle into the right place on their own. As you know, that kind of happened with “To Fly With a Broken Wing.” It took me some time for figure out where some of the chapers belonged. :)

      Reply
  2. I read two “novels” this year by Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles and From the Dust Returned – both of which were “collections” of short stories he’d published over the years then later compiled them into one novel with linking material. While I enjoyed both books (4 stars), there did seem to be less flow to the overall novel than within each story. In other words, I could tell what had been a short story.

    I realize those novels do not really “fit” in the genre you write but, they are good examples of what you’re considering, by a talented writer who doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. And I’ve found when I’m attempting new territory in my writing journey that it helps to look at what has been done before at least so far as structure and style.

    For the record, from what you teased about in your post, I’d be interested to know why that mother abandoned her kids and I haven’t read any of the linked short stories. :)

    Reply
    • Did you go into the novel aware of this, Leah? I asked because I think it might cause us to look more closely and be super-sensitive if we did.That said, you still shouldn’t have noticed the break in the flow. I wonder if Ray used entire short stories as they orginally were. What I’m seeing is that I can’t do this with these particular stories. I wish I could. It would mean less writing, but alas, it seems I rarely do things the easy way. ;)

      Here’s hoping I’m able to write this without the reader knowing its origins.

      Reply
      • Nope, I didn’t know before I read either book. But knowing after answered my questions about flow and pace.

        Usually I try to keep information pre-read to a minimum so I go in as “fresh” as possible. (I do the same thing with movies.) Even reading reviews before I read the book is rare for me; I generally just look at the book’s average rating and what people with similar reading interests rated it. Once I finish reading, I dig into the details about the book, read the author’s acknowledgements, reader reviews, etc.

        Reply
        • Interesting. I think going into a book “fresh” is a good idea considering reviews are sometimes all over the place. It’s best to form our own opinions. We can sometimes be influenced by others whether we realize it or not.

  3. A novel is one possibility or you could stick with the collection of stories with the common thread. I read and enjoyed “The Woman from Away” (or something like that) and that’s how it was written. It was a collection of small stories that created a bigger one. The story took place in Cape Breton. I wish I could remember the actual title and the author, but I read it a few years ago.

    Going about it this way leaves you to use all that’s been already written (and published).

    Writing challenges are great ways to make progress. I find if I challenge myself, I focus more and get things done. When I don’t have a goal, a list or challenge, I can spend a week and do nothing that moves my writing career forward.

    My currently challenge is to complete my second romance (only about 5,000 words to go) and edit my fantasy novel, book two of a series, that sits around 160,000 words. The challenge is to knock it down to 130,000 words.

    Good luck, Laura.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Diane. The wonderful thing about writing is there’s usually more than one way to tackle a challenge.

      Oh, you do have a challenge, Diane. Cutting is almost more challenging than adding, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. I’m amazed by how much you’re able to accomplish in your writing. Goal setting really seems to make a difference for you. I may have to try that for this project or risk spending too much time revising as I go along. I’ll let you know how I make out. :)

      Reply
  4. You can do it!
    I’m trying to connect scenes in mine now….sounds easier than it actually is!

    Reply
  5. I think it’s a marvelous idea. I think, considering I’ve been following your blog for a few years now, that you’re up to the challenge. I think it’s not going to be easy, but it’ll definitely be interesting. The problem is you have to make each character as fascinating as the last. Think “Friends”, “The Big Bang Theory”, and “Lost’, all successful because each character was muliti-facscinated. Okay, true there’s no such word — but there should be.

    Reply
    • You’re right, Joylene, each character needs to stand out and be memorable without being too “different.” There’s always that balance isn’t there?

      Reply
  6. I’m sure once you get started, the pieces will begin to fall into place.

    Reply
    • It’s starting to feel that way already, Patti. I found the getting started part a bit confusing in the begining. I managed to add 4000 words this weekend and it feels encouraging. :)

      Reply
  7. This sounds like an interesting and worthwhile project. I am sure it will fall into place nicely – eventually. We all know nothing in the writing world comes easy!

    Reply
  8. The fact that the stories and their characters have stayed with you all this time is a pretty good indication they’re not going to let go of you until you do something with them. I think linking the stories into one novel sounds both fascinating and challenging because I’m assuming there will also have to be some kind of conflict that they all have in common. Go for it!! I have no doubt you can do it.

    Reply
    • Some stories do haunt us and you’re right, Carol, the fact that they are still so prominent is probably a good indication that I really need to explore this. Many of the stories do have a common thread, so really, that’s all I probably need, except for another twenty or thirty thousand words.. Maybe more. Thanks for the vote of confidence. :)

      Reply
  9. Laura, it might seem difficult to link related stories, but the effort is well worth it in the end. I started a long time ago with clipped snippets and short stories I could sneak time to write. It morphed later into links of characters and settings. I hope you do because some of the best stuff we do comes from those long held stories we never knew were part of something we could turn into a novel :)

    Reply
    • You’re right, Florence, I never thought i’d be considering a novel. Now it feels as thought it’s something I must do or else spend my days kicking my butt, I don’t want to do that. :)

      Reply
  10. I say give it a shot. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ll still a great string of short stories. :-)

    Reply

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