Which comes first – a novel or a short story? Hmm…
This question floated to the top of my mind last week as I wrote a short story about two of my favorite characters from my novel Home Place. As I wrote the novel, the characters showed up first. I knew only part of their story, that they were married, that Darcy and Kat were friends almost from birth, and that Luke and Whip had been friends in their early grades but had spent time apart when Whip was sent to live with his Uncle Jake and Aunt Sue in Dakota. Luke was a cook, and Darcy was the superb and feisty server that kept their diner, The Firehouse humming. They were happy, concerned for their friends, and newly pregnant.
But how did they get to where they were? It’s not something I addressed in the novel. In fact, I didn’t give it any thought at all. I was too busy figuring out what would happen with Kat and Whip to build a backstory for their supporting players. Nor did I pay a lot of attention when an early reader – my niece Michelle – suggested I needed to write a sequel or maybe a prequel. ‘They’re so different,’ she said. ‘Darcy is so high-energy. Luke is so laid back. How they got together – there’s a story there.’
Huh, I thought at the time. But I was already knee-deep in two other projects with no time or energy to explore how Luke and Darcy met, fell for each other, and married. I sure didn’t see how I’d turn their story into a full-blown novel. Nope. It was just another idea – one that took its place on a top out-of-reach shelf. Until Darcy started to tug on my sleeve a few weeks ago.
At about the same time, another notion tugged too – that successful author-marketers provided ‘bonus material’ to their readers. Huh. I’d already posted photos and stories about my actual Home Place. I could see that as bonus material. But… huh. What about Darcy and Luke? And with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, could that be an occasion to offer my readers a little bonus?
Now I’ve often said that my characters drive the stories I write. So I started listening to see what Darcy and Luke might tell me about their story. Well. I listened most to laid-back Luke because if I asked Darcy she’d demand a full-blown novel, and that was just not in the cards. A bonus, I said. A little bonus. Maybe a short story? Sure, said Luke. How short? Darcy. I aimed at 2000 words. Darcy bargained for another thousand and then some. But from that process, a short story, ‘Darcy’s Valentine’ was hatched – from the novel Home Place.
And then a few days later, I had another ‘huh’ moment. I’d just written a short story about characters in a novel, but when I wrote the novel Come Back, it came about because a character I wrote about in a short story tugged on my sleeve – and hair and gray matter under my hair. Vi was a supporting character in ‘Christmas at Opal’s’ – one of several other supporting players who might have equally fun stories. But Vi intrigued me most – perhaps because of the unlikely way she seemed to have healed her wounds. How did that happen? And what will she do now? And so…though it took six years of hard labor, the novel Come Back was birthed.
So which comes first? Apparently, for me, the character comes first. And then, depending on how hard they or their circumstances tug, whatever happens next is…what happens. Am I aware that this is not a particularly satisfying answer to the question? Yes, indeed. In fact, now I’m wondering if the hundred thousand five words I’ve written to tell Lee’s story so far might be a hundred thousand too many! Would I have pushed Lee harder to aim toward a conclusion if hers was to be a short story instead of a novel? Huh.
In the end – if I ever reach the end of Lee’s story – I’m convinced it will take a full-blown novel to do her story justice. But rest easy. That novel will likely be more like eighty thousand words. Lee’s a budding writer herself, so she’ll understand it’s necessary to pare her story down. I hope!
Oh, those people taking up residence in my head. They can be so very demanding!