At the Willamette Writers Conference a couple of weeks back, I attended a seminar on how to develop story – a stand alone story. The idea was to help writers to look more three dimensionally at their projects.
There were a lot of terrific take-aways from that class. A few of those I will describe here.
One of the most important things to understand about how to develop story is that it stands inside of a bigger story world. All of that plot and character development details a single arc inside of a broader universe.
Daunting? No. That realization should come with a liberating sigh.
As you are developing your novel, hopefully you’re going through a gradual process of narrowing down. You are looking at the bigger universe to find your character and story threads within.
Out of that bigger universe your story emerges. If you’re writing World War II (and hopefully you are, because it’s a rich vein) your novel cannot encompass all of the many theaters and campaigns. More than likely, you’re writing about a single figure or cast of figures in that raging globe of conflict.
Find the other threads that connect your characters and develop story there.
Does your radio control officer at Pearl Harbor have a girlfriend back at home? Tell the story in a short from her point of view. When you sit back and look three dimensionally, the possibilities are endless.
Another take-away is one to help you through the editing process. We have all felt the sting of cutting out a chapter from our manuscripts. It’s addition by subtraction, your editor will say.
Odds are, you’ll cut two or three chunks out of your novel as you develop story and mourn each one. Can those chapters or subplots be developed into a stand alone story though?
This felt like news to me.
Much of my upcoming novel, The Strange Air, centers on a small fictional Oregon town. In that town there is an AM radio station and one of my first draft sub plots dealt with the DJ.
In the first set of re-writes though, I felt that the DJ subplot did not quite work. It slowed the primary story down considerably and it needed to hit the cutting room floor for the book to improve.
I loved the character though. I was a college radio DJ. I love the relationship between the lonesome DJ at the microphone and the wide world of a listening public. Rather than let him go, I decided to rescue that story line from the cutting room floor and reform into a stand alone novella inside my story world.
Does that make sense? Do not allow the confinement of form determine your valuation of material. Something isn’t good, let it go. If it doesn’t fit in then maybe you need to repurpose.
The value in a stand-alone story comes in the way it lends increased credibility to your bigger project. A writer may not make much money, or any money at all from a stand-alone story but that is OK.
See beyond the dollar sign. That give away story may be the key to a bigger result.