Thursday, October 12, 2023

The plot audition

Sometimes, I ask my plots to audition. I ask them to try out for their roles as novels that will dominate my life for a year or more by writing them as short stories first. Occasionally, they succeed as both. Bitter Crossing, the first Peyton Cote novel, was “Autumn’s Crossing” in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Usually, if the plot is best served as a 40-chapter meal, it becomes apparent: the storyline is simply too large –– or would take way too much energy to pare –– to be a short story.

I just went through this process and ended up with 10,000 words in the form of an over-developed short story (41 pages are sitting on my desk) but something that isn’t close to a novella. Poor thing currently lives in purgatory. The story reads like an outline to a novel. It began life with a kernel of truth, then an idea for an opening scene, but no clear ending. It was perfect for a plot audition.

As I worked through it, I wrote 18 chapters, some that could be expanded. Better yet, I have some chapters that can be expanded upon –– meaning I saw ways to make the story more layered and places where additional suspects and complications for my protagonists could be inserted. The conclusion showed its face, as it always does, but the story also hinted that there might be alternative endings that will emerge organically.

One thing I know is that it’s not a short story; it’s a novel.

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