Thursday, October 06, 2011

Novel to Story

About a year ago, when I published my first short story, my agent asked if I had a story featuring the protagonist in the novel he was shopping on my behalf. His point: if I could sell a story featuring the same character, it might give my protagonist traction with the publishing houses we were approaching. (Logical? Maybe. Then again, who can figure out the publishing industry?) It was a mute point anyway. Neither of the two stories I wrote last year and sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine feature the female border patrol agent who stars in my would-be new series. But I've been thinking of my agent's comment ever since.

I have always loved Ed McBain's short story "Sadie When She Died" and have read it many times. The story features McBain's 87th Precinct family and offers a unique plot twist at the end, one readers (at least this one) never saw coming the first time through.

An interesting aside: McBain later turned the story into a novel—same title, same plot. It makes perfect sense; the story is compelling, the motivation behind the antagonist's rationale fascinating. And, of course, the police procedural aspects are interesting and insightful as with all of McBain’s work. The process also makes sense because many writers—McBain, I believe I read somewhere, included—begin writing stories before moving on to novels, the thought being that one should master the shorter form before attempting the longer one.

However, I did not begin writing fiction this way. I sold five novels before trying my hand at the short-story genre. I tend to "see" my stories in a much longer structure, rather than the three-act story sequence.

Yet this week I finished a story that came to life in a manner opposite McBain's creation of "Sadie When She Died." I turned the plot of a 90,000-word novel into a 5,300-word story. The process was fascinating—and far from easy. I began the story in July and struggled mightily along the way. The story’s conclusion results in the same outcome, yet the ending is, as one might imagine, different from the novel’s. And I'm left considering which I like better. Probably the novel's ending.

Regardless, the process was unique and educational. The plot of the novel is a spider web, roaming from one event to another, some related. The story, though, demanded that I fine-tune the plot and add what probably amounts to a three-act structure.

Going story-to-novel has got to be easier than to going novel-to-story. But like writing a reserve outline, I learned exactly where I digressed.


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Charlotte Hinger said...

John, congrats on the sales to Alfred Hitchcock and I'm looking forward to the novel. Love the female border patrol idea.

Anonymous said...

Don't you mean a "moot point"? If it was "mute," nobody could hear it...

Congrats on the sales in any case.

John R Corrigan said...

Yes. My bad.

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