Short story or first draft?

inside pages of the book A curious incident of the dog in the night time

Recently I’ve been noticing a trend. More and more writers have been writing short stories and then blowing them up into full novels instead of writing first drafts.

I have to admit, I’ve done that before too. In my novel, It’s a stony road through Hell, it was originally written as a short story and then years later I re-wrote it as a short-ish novel. It made a surprisingly high quality final piece. Usually I have to re-write a piece over and over again just to get it to be kind of readable, but from the short story starting point it came together fairly easily.

its-a-stony-road-through-hell-coverThe writer I heard about most recently doing this is Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies. Evidently, the story was originally written as a seven page short story (practically a flash fiction) and it only really covered what an internal monologue might be for a zombie. Later, he expanded on it to create an entire post-apocalyptic world for the main characters to live in. I think it’s amazing how he took just seven pages and turned it into a 239 page novel.

My short story of ISRTH started out significantly longer. I’m not sure I even doubled my word count.

But it really shows what you can do, if you have a good starting point. See, I think that’s the whole point of starting with a short story. You get to start with something that’s already good.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing a good novel is even harder. They’re big, they’re meandering, and they spiral out of control quickly. How novels are usually written is a writer writes the first draft and it’s terrible. Let’s face it, even first drafts from great authors are pretty bad. Then the writer is supposed to take this bad writing and re-write it over and over again until it’s good. The problem is your starting point is with a whole lot of bad writing.

IMG_0263In contrast, short stories are easy to write because they are so much smaller. It’s kind of like the difference between wrestling with a tiger vs. wrestling with a kitten. Best of all, short stories are easy to write well the first time around. So, if you start with a short story, you might not have much to work with, but it’s all high quality. All you have to do is expand on it.

Have you ever blown up a short story into a novel? Was it a blow-out or did it turn nuclear? Please share in the comments area below.

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When are character names too unusual?

caution tape over doorI seem to like the most unusual names for my characters. In an earlier novel I was working on I had a female protagonist named Hero. In Driftwood Island, I had Alley, as in the small side street. Along with her friends Cherry and Champaign. Even in Monster in the Basement, which out of all my books has the most average names,  I still had Archer Lee Grant Garfield Haversham the third. Though, he just went by Archer.

I’m not really sure why I like odd names for my characters. Maybe because I personally have such an average, forgettable name?

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Like a tiny island lost at sea, is the character name way out there?

Whatever the reason, I often go tiptoeing along the borderline of “too weird to work” for my character names. And in the book I’m working on now, I have a character that is hanging on a cliff’s edge by a fingernail. At any moment, ready to drop into the “Just too weird to be believable” category.

He’s the co-protagonist and love interest, a snobby vampire librarian, and his full name is Saint Crispin Saint Paul Saint James. Of course, typing all that out throughout the manuscript would be a royal pain so he’s Crispin St. James for short.

I don’t know why, but part of me really likes the name. There’s something old fashioned, and formal about it. I can imagine that name popping up in a Shakespearian play. And another plus about it is I can’t think of a single other book character that has a name like Crispin. Original names stick out a bit, don’t they?

Then there is the question of, how much weird is too weird? To me a name like Saint Crispin Saint Paul Saint James isn’t that unusual, but to others, it might be way out there. It’s always a difficult balance between expressing your own artistic tastes and writing something readers would like. My rule of thumb is: Name them whatever the heck I want, and then let the Beta readers comment if they think the name is too distracting.

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Character names make things colorful!

How do you know when you’re being too artistic with your character naming? Have there ever been unusual names that you just loved but couldn’t use? Please share them in the comments area below.

Can off beat characters have romance?

broken heart

I’ve been struggling with this question for months now. The main character of the novel I’m currently working on is really off beat. She’s a former goth girl that got dumped by her vampire boy-friend and now she’s out for revenge. The only problem is she’s kind of an obsessive fan-girl klutz. She’s kind of goofy. But, I want her to find love and have her story have a happily ever after ending. It’s been a lot tougher to make that happen than I thought.

Here’s a few scene’s that I think really highlight her character.IMG_0194

It was Thursday morning and I was still in bed. I wasn’t going to get up for school today, I hadn’t gotten up for school yesterday or the day before either. I was wrapped in my gran-gran’s hand-made blanket that she had made, by hand, just for me. Because she loved me until the day she died. ‘Cause, that’s how love was supposed to be, damn it!

Someone knocked on my bedroom door. Good thing I was already facing that way, because I wasn’t interested in rolling over. My dad poked his head in.

“Honey, could we have a little talk?” he asked, “Me and your mom are kind of worried.”

Our talk went something like this,

Dad: “Honey, we really think you need to start going to school again.”

Me: “ROOWWRR!”

Dad: “Eep, Eep, Eep!” and he runs away.

#  #  #

Once I had the mug shots hung just the way I wanted them, I drew a bullseye in red marker over Robby’s big, fat face and then another bullseye over Crispin’s snooty, jerk face.

I pointed at both of them.

“You two are both going down. You thought you could mess with me? Think again!”

“You,” I said, jabbing a finger at the Robby photo, “You are going to cry, fall to your knees, and beg for my forgiveness.”

“And you,” I said, pointing at the St. James photo, “You are going to worship me when I become an all mighty vampire queen, and then you will scrub my floors.”

“Mwa ha ha ha!”

My mom popped her head into my room, “Honey, is everything alright in here?”

“It’s awesome!” I said, a huge smile spread across my face and I couldn’t stop giggling.

My mom’s eyes darted to the pictures hanging on the wall behind me and then to the shredded photo on the floor that I was standing on.

“Um, okay. . . . Dinner will be ready soon,” she said, then slowly backed out the door.

broken heart in two 3Needless to say, trying to find a way for my main character to change enough to fall in love with someone, but not so much that she doesn’t stay in character, has been a real problem. And to make my job even harder, I for some reason decided to make her love interest kind of a snobby jerk. Seriously, why did I decided to make a tough job even harder?

If I can make this story work, I think it will be a really fun book. It just has a lot of tweaking a head of it.

Have you ever had problem characters that just don’t seem to do what you wanted them to? Are you currently working on a story that you made more difficult to write than it needed to be? I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below.