Writing a short story: part 5

I’m on page 30, and about halfway through, so I think my estimate of 60 pages is going to be pretty accurate. My initial breakdown of those pages, however, was off. I thought that 30 would be the end of the necromancer attack, but some edits to the early pages (cutting out needless explanation, streamlining narrative, etc.) gave me some extra room, and fit the whole scene where they plan their posse into the vacated pages. Note that this was not my intention–I wasn’t trying to reach page 30 as a magical benchmark of some kind, it just happened to be where the scene ended. In writing that scene, however, I started to realize that I’m going to need more room than I expected to wrap this up–I need a final showdown, of course, and a scene where the posse is beaten and captured, and somewhere in the middle of those two I’m going to need the character climax where Silas comes to term with his superpower. What I wasn’t planning on, but I’m definitely going to need, as at least one small scene of travel, probably several micro-scenes showing different places and conversations and clues. I don’t want to just jump straight into the next fight scene–but I don’t want to drag this out any more than I have to, either. It’s a very hard balance to find.

My first instinct, of course, was to just lengthen the story and make it a novel or novella. Why not? Well, because I’m writing for a specific market and if I make this any longer it essentially won’t have a market at all. Maybe I’m overestimating the un-sell-ability of this story, but you’ve got to remember that horror and westerns are both at the bottom of their popularity sine waves right now. This story would make an awesome movie, but I simply don’t see a useful home for it as a novel: sure, you want to read it, but as a reader of my website you’re kind of a self-selecting niche market. My best bet is to write the story as planned, keep it short, hope the anthology wants it, and retain every conceivable right to republish it elsewhere in the same or other incarnations. If for some reason horror westerns about mutant pioneers become really popular, then boy, have I got a doozy all lined up and ready to go. Until then I’ll stay on target for 60 pages.

(Also: my natural tendency to complicate things, and my secret urge to turn this into a novel, almost got me to turn two other kids in the story into mutants, and form a team, and really turn this into an X-Men Mormons on the High Plains kind of thing, but I resisted. You should all be proud.)

So I know I need a section, maybe just five or six pages, of travel and reflection and interaction with the other men in the posse. I didn’t think I’d need it, but now that I’m here I can tell that I totally do. The scene I just finished was primarily social–it’s partly about Silas trying to reconcile his mother’s death, but it’s also about the townspeople trying to accept him as anything other than a monster. Neither group is fully convinced of his redeemability (because I need to save that for the end), which left us in a kind of grudging, temporary alliance in the face of a greater danger–they’ll work with him, and he’ll help, because the necromancer has their daughters and sisters kidnapped, but they’re not going to like it. A crucible like that (ie, put multiple characters in one place and turn up the heat) serves as a promise to the reader: I can’t set up all those conflicts without paying them off. I need to show that some of the people hate him, some of the people slowly come to trust him, and that Silas himself is too damaged by his earlier failure to effectively face the final battle. Travel scenes, even small ones, will develop those themes and allow me to pay them off in the big dramatic scenes that come later.

One thing I’ve really been concerned about, since the very first stages of outlining this story, is the exact moment when Silas learns what is ostensibly the crux of the story: the key realization that his powers are not a curse but a blessing from God. As you can see from my earlier blogs, I’ve never really been sure if that would work best in Plot Turn 2 or the Midpoint–both of which should be major decisions. As I was writing the midpoint just now, it turned into less of a “Silas” moment and more of a “townspeople” moment; the characters trying to convince him he wasn’t evil were also, and perhaps mostly, trying to convince the townspeople not to kill him outright. This gave their arguments a different focus that I hadn’t expected, but which worked very well, as it served mainly to flip the scales from “evil” to “not evil.” That leaves us the perfect opportunity in the final climax to tip him over from “not evil” to “good.” I should also point out that, despite my intentions, Silas’s potential love interest was not kidnapped, which means that she can’t deliver the inspiring speech in the climax. The good news is that the mean old biddy who hates Silas, Mollie Hammond, WAS kidnapped, and I can have her give the speech. It will be a very cool redemption of her character, and overall it will make the story stronger. I love it when little accidents like that crop up and turn out to be awesome.

3 Responses to “Writing a short story: part 5”

  1. Could some of the townspeople’s anger at Silas be caused because they blame him for his mother’s death?

    And I think “X-men Mormons on the High Plains” makes a great story title. Of course, would have to change it to “Mutant Mormons on the High Plains” to avoid the Marvel franchise. Now that I think about it, though, we already have mutant Mormons around here.

  2. Josh says:

    I enjoyed your post and found it very interesting to gain insight into your writing process. I believe that we all have a different way of putting words together. Your story sounds great, as well. I am looking forward to reading more. Thanks.

  3. Alan says:

    Wait a minute: how old is Silas?

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