Once upon a time . . . I wrote big complex novels with multiple POV’s and groups of characters going off in different directions and doing all sorts of interesting things, before they came back together for the final battle.
Now I seem to be writing shorter works with fewer detours and side threads.
Oh, I know why I started writing short.
There was a lot of disruption and stress in my life during my parents’ last years of life, while everything else kept happening too. Serious injuries, a sudden death, my son’s wedding in Taiwan . . . all the while I tried to fly out to California for two weeks every other month to stay and take care of my parents.
Well, it’s all over, life is settling down. It’s been a year since I was staying half-packed, ready to drop everything and head for Sacramento.
Time to restart the longer more complicated stories again.
And I flat don’t know how to do it anymore.
I made a complete muff of my first attempt. I mean, I’ve got three distinct groups, coming at a common enemy from three different directions.
So, they need to interact occasionally, while doing their own thing. And then all come together in the big climactic battle.
Easy, peasy, right?
Ha! I just couldn’t make it coherent. I finally gave up and yanked one thread altogether and made it a separate novella (Shadow Zone.)
And continued to fight the other two threads that seemed determined to repel each other. Finally bashed them up enough to publish (Last Merge.)
But I’m still not happy about it.
I need to analyze how and why stories “work.” Or don’t.
So, I started by looking at why my first try didn’t work.
In retrospect, the reason it didn’t work was that my three main characters weren’t a single group at the start (or anywhere else.) Their periodical interactions were brief and unemotional, their long separations not the least bit stressful for any of them, and they just happened to all be on the battlefield at the same time.
The story just wasn’t close enough to any of the characters. And the characters didn’t spare the characters in the other threads any thought, at all.
Hindsight. I hate it.
Then there’s the first book I ever wrote and finished.
Black Goats is far from perfect . . . but it starts with everyone in one place, calling the village home. They all know each other. They love, hate, horrify, and disgust each other. There’s emotion in the relationships. They go traveling, but they all plan on returning to that place and those people. And when the final battle is underway, it’s all of them coming together to fight it.
It works in a way that the Last Merge doesn’t. The threads have emotional connections.
Now, looking at the Work In Progress . . .
- I see right off that I’m going to need more front matter, to establish the soon-to-be-separated characters’ relationships and closeness—the MC, his sister, and his girlfriend.
- I’m pretty good on the sister and girlfriend agonizing over the missing MC, and bonding over it. But perhaps a bit of earlier antagonism?
- Then the girlfriend gets into trouble. Okay, I need more emotion. The sister is horrified, all alone now, and mad . . . and all the relatives descend on her wanting information, when all she really wants is someone to kill . . .
- The girlfriend, in the meantime is coping well. She needs to worry a bit more about the MC’s disappearance, and why isn’t he here, where she’s been disappeared to. And worry about her friend, the MC’s sister.
- A reunion of MC and girlfriend, out where the MC got stuck. Got that in the bag. Need to add more concern about what the sister is doing.
- Getting into serious trouble, of course.
- So I need to show that the MC has been making progress towards getting himself (and now the girlfriend) home. Because he rescues his sister, as she’s in the process of botching rescuing him.
- Got them back together. Now all I need to do is have all three of them go kick the Bad Guy’s ass.
And no, this is not a romance. In between these emotion points there’s been plenty of fighting, and bleeding, survival in a wilderness, research, spacesuits, cute robot dogs and so forth.
But I think, if I can remember the emotional connections between the groups, it will work. Effortlessly. No bashing needed.
And my latest: