Tuesday, November 20, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

I respect that writing a novel is a thing I'm going to have to do if I want to make money writing.

I worry I don't have the same hunger for it as a lot of other people I know. These folks get a twinkle in their eye when they talk about their book, like it's their baby that just played concert level piano, graduated with honors, and then rearranged its alphabet blocks into the cure for cancer. By contrast, if we're just judging on enthusiasm, my novel baby could be assumed to be propped up in a corner filling its diaper, gorging itself on paste, and biting the cat.

I like short stories. I like flash. I like tight focus and ending on ambiguity. I like a single piece that can be extrapolated to a larger whole without ever describing the latter.

And honestly, I don't feel like I even have shorts down particularly well. Not enough to go bragging around about it. I can't pull the pieces of it apart and explain how it all works.

People keep telling me I shouldn't be afraid of novels- that I can chill out, relax, take my time. Not everything in a novel has to accomplish something right away; there's all sorts of frills and self indulgences you can sneak in and rather than hurting the novel, they make it deeper and more unique.

But, honestly, a lot of them feel like distractions and dead ends.

There's a weight to a novel too. A thing about many stories I've written- not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing- is that they don't hold up to hours and hours of scrutiny. I like magical realism- stories where why a thing happened isn't as important as the fact that it did. That's way harder in novels.

For example, I wrote a story where horrible monsters come to a school bake sale and set up a table. The people recognize the monsters, but I never went to any trouble to explain how they knew them, what the monsters' ecology was, what relationship the people had with the monsters, whether there were other terrible supernatural things in the world. None of that. The people just went "well, this is a thing that's happening now" and proceeded on with the sale. This idea is spun sugar, prose confection. It wouldn't hold the weight of seven thousand words, much less a novel.

Or maybe it would. I don't think so, but when I took the story to a group, a number of people (people, it should be said, who don't like short stories) said it struck them as the beginning of a novel, and that the end of the story (when it ends nobody is dead yet, but it could go any number of ways) seems to them like the very beginning. It feels to me like a complete three beat story, in a horror sort of way. Monsters come and sow direct terror, people gradually acclimated to the terror and even start to feel a bit normal and in control, monsters reveal a different, worse horror has been their agenda the whole time. That things go badly, I feel, can be reasonably implied without spelling it out. My group thought it should be a book, going into the town response to the monsters, making a character of one of the children, just a dizzying amount of extra stuff for a story I'd conceived of as working on the same formula as a recited joke.

For me, it's a satisfying experience as it is.

Sometimes I feel like the exception. 

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