Why can’t I get this manuscript to expand!? I’ve pulled it in every direction. I’ve yanked it, stretched it, squeezed it, pinched it. Nothing helps. I love the story, I love the twisted broken family portrayed in the story…but no matter what I try, I can’t get it to grow. The story is what the story is. I keep thinking to myself, ‘You know what, in today’s ebook world…it doesn’t matter. You can sell it as a short story, a novella. You don’t have to stretch it just for the sake of stretching it.’ But then I know…somewhere deep down, I know this is a novel. A novel in hiding. A novel in waiting. These people just won’t tell me any more than they have already told me.
As a writer, do you ever feel like part of your job is to be a seer? A fortune teller? An all-seeing being?
Because I NEVER feel that way. I never feel like the arcs of my characters are my responsibility. I start off thinking, ‘Okay, I’m going to have character one do this and character 2 react this way. Then character three is going to come in and glue up all the works’. That’s about all I start with, but by page three character three doesn’t even exist and character one forgot what he was supposed to do and character one hasn’t arrived on the page yet. I always have this thought for a story and then I sit down. From that point on, I’m always at the mercy of the story that wants to be told…not the one I thought I wanted to tell.
The novel I’m griping about right now is one called THE REASONS. I wrote it for the 2008 Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s the story of a broken dysfunctional family trying to repair itself. I said broken dysfunctional because although all families are dysfunctional, they’re not all broken. The Reasons (Sir name of the family and the title of the book) are a family in a downward spiral. Everything is falling apart. I want to hold off submitting the short novella I have written because something is always telling me that it’s meant to be a full length novel, but that something is not sharing anything else with me. It’s not telling me HOW to make it a full length novel. It’s really quite aggravating, actually.
Maybe it’s time to do what I sometimes do when I’m struggling with a novel. Write dialogue. In essence, write little mini-scripts, little plays getting the characters to open up to me and tell me what they want to say. When I write solid dialogue, I find it’s easier to let the characters take over. So maybe I should take Maggie, Marcy, David and Tobias Reason out of the novel for a few hours and play with them on stage…get them moving around and gesticulating with one another…get them babbling in each others’ faces. If I can concentrate on their conversations for a while, it may just unlock this problem I’m having with trying to expand upon the novel.
I honestly don’t have a problem with novellas. This is not my problem with The Reasons. I just know that it is NOT a novella. I know there is more that this family wants to say and do. I just can’t see around the corners. If I place them on a stage looking at each other, they will have no choice but to start talking. If I can pay attention to what they say, I may just be able to scrape more story together, close the play and get back to the novel in waiting.
It won’t be the first time I took a novel to the stage to stretch it. I suggest this plan of action to anyone who is stuck trying to write their novel. Just take the characters out of the confines of the book long enough to have fun with them. Playwriting is so much different than novel writing…but the one thing that they should both have in common is excellent dialogue. For me, writing dialogue lines for a play comes so much easier than dialogue in a novel. While writing the play, I imagine the characters, I see their movements, their directions…they come to life. So try that…just make sure you put them back into the novel when you’re finished. Don’t let them run willy nilly around while you’re patting yourself on the shoulder for the good effort.
Speaking of playwriting, this past Thursday was the Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival at Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, Ontario. It was another great event put on by Driftwood Theatre as a fundraiser for their travelling theatre company. I wrote a play for the science lab this year. When I first arrived in my room I think I was a little overwhelmed. There was just so MUCH STUFF! Everywhere I looked, there were props. It was insane. For me, too many things are just as bad as too few. Every year I write a Trafalgar play I get a little worried about what room I’m going to get. You can only use the props inside the room at the time you arrive. If there is nothing there, you rely completely on the actors. If there are piles and piles of props, you kind of run the risk of incorporating too many things into the script.
Last year, my play took place on the stage of the auditorium…hence, having only a podium for a prop. After panicking for about 20 minutes, I relaxed and wrote my play. The year before, I was in the piano room. Obvious props…back to back pianos. YES…I incorporated them into the play. My first year, I found myself in the castle basement…down a dim dark hall that looked like it was neglected for the past 75 years. There were props…but touching them meant the actors would be getting dirty. But, hey, I wasn’t the actor…so, yes, I had them stuffing themselves into dirty closets, and picking up objects that were mostly made of dust and grime.
Fast forward to this year. I walk into the science lab and immediately realize there are a thousand and one things I could use in my play. My first feeling was, “ALRIGHT!” Then I thought, ‘wait a minute…prop overload!!’ It’s kind of like being a fat kid in a candy store. You want everything at once, but you don’t know what to grab first. So, two minutes in…the fat kid is on the floor of the store crying. He doesn’t know what to do! He’s too overwhelmed.
So, though I love that I get a new room every year, I really discovered that the science lab was the hardest one I’ve ever been given. Not because I had nothing to work with, but because I had too much to work with!
I think it turned out okay, though. I had amazing amazing actors yet again! I have never seen a so-so actor at Trafalgar 24. There are no other creative people I have more respect for than the respect I have for actors. And Trafalgar 24 actors are at the top of that respect chain. Screw Brad Pitt and Wynona Ryder…they’re great on screen…but can they come into a castle and see a script for the first time and put on 6 performances of that script that very evening?! I’m guessing no. The Trafalgar 24 actors are amazing! I bow to them. And the directors…I can’t say enough. Every year, this is the year’s best event for me. By the time the gala evening rolls around, it’s almost like I had no part in it at all. I’m just another lucky audience member who gets to take it all in.
SO, this year, my play was ACRONYMS FOR HAPPINESS. I entered the castle at 9pm Thursday night, started writing it at 10pm, after arriving at the science lab. I left the castle at 6am Friday morning. Like every year before, I spent the day horrified, thinking that either my actors or my director—or possibly all of them after forming a posse—were planning to kill me upon my arrival at the castle later Friday evening. I’m always 100% sure I leave behind me an unactable–impossible play. I visualize the actors spending the entire day crying. I see the director tearing the room apart in frustration. This year, since there were SO MANY props in the science lab, my director–in my mind’s eye–spent the day tossing bunsen burners and microscopes and petri dishes around. I was afraid to see the lab…I knew it would be a mess of broken science equipment, and I knew it was all my fault.
Yes…that’s how positive I am every year that I write a bad play. I’m afraid to speak to my actors and director—terrified, actually. But—honestly, I LOVE TRAFALGAR24. Really, I do.
Not only is it a wonderful wonderful evening of great entertainment, but it also helps to fund DRIFTWOOD THEATRE…it helps them take their BARD’S BUS around Southern Ontario and give the public the gift of modern Shakespeare!
I just looked at the title of this post and realized I had one more thing to talk about! Whispered Words! This is the WCDR’s yearly writing contest. Two years ago, they had WICKED WORDS (I received an honourable mention in that contest and my short story, Rabacheeko, was included in the Wicked Words anthology). Last year, they had WILD WORDS (I was a first round judge for Wild Words. I was honoured to have that role. There were so many entries and you really do realize how hard it is to judge a contest like this. The writing was excellent. I loved SO MANY of the entries!). This year, it was WHISPERED WORDS. At next Saturday’s WCDR Breakfast Meeting, the winners of this contest will be announced. I was fortunate enough to make the short list
I still can’t believe my little story made it this far in the competition! I’m hoping this means it gets to be in the anthology, though I’m not sure. Why do I hope this? Because the cover is incredible! The winner of the cover art contest was revealed at a previous breakfast meeting and I immediately fell in love with it. We’ll find out next Saturday who the winners are. I’m hoping a new writer wins…I know it would help them to gain confidence in their writing. I only enter the WCDR contests in order to support the group. My piece already went way further than I expected it to go. I will be excited to see the results played out at the breakfast meeting…everybody in the group is SO supportive of one another. It’s great to see everybody sharing in the wins. We are a large group, the WCDR, but we are also a group of 1. (-:
Check out the world’s greatest writing group: