Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Final Story of 2011

In literature, only trouble is interesting.
-Janet Burroway

Although much of my time during the first few days of this new year has been spent in preparation for the release of "Reserved for War" next week, I did finally have some time to sit down this evening and write out an ending for a story I started on New Year's Eve.

For that reason alone, really, I feel like I'm finally done with my writing for 2011.

So, I think it's time to do a bit of a look-back.

I won't be able to do a memorial for the whole year until I get back to my records on Thursday (yeah, I should keep those with me). But I at least wanted to look back on this "Short Story Spree" I started in December.

As predicted, it didn't accomplish nearly as much as I intended it to.

But it was definitely successful.

I wrote five short(er) stories, the beginnings of a sixth, and reworked a seventh over thirty three(ish) days.

I'd call that a success.

In all, it's about 34,304 words of new fiction, plus "Reserved for War," which clocks in at around 6800 words.

So 40,000 words of work in a month.

I'm happy with that.

What's more, there is (I think), a clear trend of improvement throughout all that work. While the first couple of stories were a bit fumbling, they turned out well-enough in the end, and the most recent few stories I've written (two in the past week!) I consider to be competent and engaging members of the form.

(As in, they're actually stories that conclude within their short framework. Wow.)

Really quick, now, let's just run through what I worked on, shall we?

Clockworker -- 7800 words

A clockmaker in a frontier town helps the sheriff and his men save some miners from a tunnel collapse.

As I mentioned when I finished this story, this is a departure for me. It's conflict is dramatically reduced from my usual, epic fare. Its genre is way outside my normal bounds with the western trimmings. And the main character works in a profession that I know nothing about (which is obvious in the current draft), and whose mind is supposed to behave in a clocklike fashion (which doesn't come across well enough in the current draft).

Despite those challenges, however, I enjoyed it. And my careful plotting of its pinches and turns helped me focus on just how far reduced the scale needs to be for (most) short stories.

Changer -- 4900 words

A shapeshifting android is sent on a mission to infiltrate a university and befriend a gifted researcher.

This story actually grew out of a seed I planted during my first semester of college. Three and a half years to grow is long enough, right? I thought so. The imagery of a man walking down to have his face ripped away and his skin melted off, before it's replaced by a whole new facade, was really striking to me. So I wrote that scene, as well as the one where he meets his (co-ed) roommate, and then never finished the story because I didn't know what happened next. (I was also firmly fixed in my novelist mindset back then, and didn't want to commit to exploring a new story, because I figured it had to be novel length. As a side note: I am really enjoying proving my old self wrong.)

Overall, I really like this story and think it has a lot of potential. My biggest challenge right now, as I approach revision, is deciding whether the current draft needs to be expanded or stripped down. I could honestly see it going either way, so I may do both and see how my beta readers like it. (Thanks beta readers!)

I'm Going to Kill You, Geoffrey Jones -- 478 words (incomplete)

A multidimensional assassin returns home to find his family demanding vengeance for his sister's death.

Wow, is this project giving me some trouble. It started out as a fun little ditty ("I'm going to kill you, Geoffrey Jones / It's my constant motto and cry / Because the demons won't leave me alone if I don't / It's my constant motto and cry / I'm going to kill you, Geoffrey Jones"), then it mixed with this idea of family members never leaving you alone, even when they're dead, and soon it became this whole big epic thing. Naturally, as with many of these projects from this month, I took "epic thing" and tried to pare it down into a manageable short story. Because, honestly, there are very few stories that need to be epic.

Unfortunately, while I still really like the premise, and I enjoy the character's snarky voice, and I know where the plot is going(ish), it's proving difficult to write because of said snarky voice. I'm sure I'll get around to it, but right now I'm just not their on the proficiency with snarky voices.

David's Blood -- 11,400 words

A king's legacy of darkness as seen through the eyes of the people who serve him.

By the time I started writing this one, I had made the decision to begin releasing work in January. I had further made the decision to tell a larger, novel-length story through sequential short stories -- much like the season of a television show will be about a much larger story than the individual episodes immediately convey. David's Blood is one of those stories that I've had floating around in the back of my mind since I started writing (close to ten years ago, now). As such, it's had a lot of time to gestate, and a lot of different versions to steal tumors from.

The end result? A mixed bag. I think I'm on the right track for what I want this project to be. But I need some more distance from it to let some of the old darlings die, and I definitely need more experience writing multi-viewpoint books. So I'm holding off with this one for the time being.

Soulscape -- 5600 words

A demon hunter faces his greatest temptation on the final hunt of his career.

This is another one of those character ideas that I've had floating around my head for years. The most exciting thing about this story, however, is that I got to squeeze it into an unexplored corner of one of my already existing worlds! (Yay for consolidation!)

Other notable accomplishments? The length. It's with this story that I really felt my mind working to actively take advantage of the short story limitations and opportunities. From what readers have said, I seem to have done a fine job with most of the others, but this is the one where I kind of felt a piece of my writer's brain "click" into place.

Weaver's Quest -- 4200 words

An elderly woman tends to a dying knight after he collapses in front of her porch.

This is the one I just finished. And I have to say, I really like it. I'm sure it needs work (what story doesn't?) But I am legitimately proud of what I accomplished with this one. I kept the conflict within a manageable length. I focused on character interaction to fuel the tension. And I made a conscious effort to communicate the stakes, and to make those stakes relatable. And that doesn't even mention the delightfully fun protagonist I discovered for this story.

Of course, as always, readers will confirm if this is a worthwhile story or not. Without them, and their feedback, I'm just standing over here in the valley shouting up for the clouds to hear. But even at this point, I'm confident that I'll be able to make something enjoyable out of this piece without too much effort.

Finally, we come to next week's release.

Reserved for War -- 6800 words

The government enlists an unstable former soldier to help them capture a dangerous rebel.

I don't remember at what point I brought this story into the running for this year's release schedule. (Behind-the-scenes note: I was considering all of the stories I wrote last month as potentials for publication. Fast turnaround? Yeah.) But it didn't take long for it to emerge, in my mind at least, as a clear front-runner in the decision-making process.

As you know by now, it's just the first part of a larger story that will be told over the course of this year, but I first wrote this opening episode back in the summer of 2010 -- as I was getting back into writing following an interruption brought on by the lengthy aftermath of a difficult breakup. I liked the idea of a "modern berserker" type of character as a protagonist, and the potential complications that could bring to his personal life. What would a more advanced tech level bring to the berserker archetype? How would this character live out life at home? With coworkers? On the modern battlefield? And so on.

Obviously, the idea has refined itself since then. Now we've got mechanized armor, a pseudo-religious retro-dystopian setting, and a whole stew of backstory drama. If I manage to juggle all these toys right, we're going to have a crazy ride on our hands.

But you know I wouldn't let you see my show until I managed to pull the juggling off right. ;)

To bring this to an end, I have to say that I am finding far more joy in writing short fiction than I thought I would. Yes, it's been a challenge to reign myself in. But it's teaching me just how much I can (and can't, in some cases) do in so little time. I feel that this will only help to improve my novel-writing skills (my true love), as it will lead to faster-paced stories and tighter narratives with more immediately-engaging characters. (And etc.)

It's also inspired me to experiment with this new (for my generation), serialized form of storytelling. And I'm excited to see what kind of advantages it brings to the table.

Furthermore, writing short fiction is immensely satisfying. While I have almost a dozen different half-finished novels from the past three years alone (the timeframe within which I've been making serious efforts to write and finish things), you can see that I only have one unfinished short story. And that was from lack of proficiency, not perseverance. That kind of completion ratio is fulfilling, gratifying, inspiring, and a whole bunch of other good things.

And who knows, some of these stories might actually find their way to an audience.

Won't know until I try. :)

As I continue on into the new year, I'm excited to be working with short fiction on a weekly basis. I'll start working on the novels again soon, of course (I've missed sitting down each day and just knowing what world I'm writing in), but I now have short fiction to keep me sane, and maybe even pay for a few bills.

Here's hoping.

Until next time...
-josh k.

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