My son came up for dinner this evening, and wandered around with me afterwards while I watered roses.
He talked about a short story he wrote, that he would like to turn into a novel. But he doesn’t think there’s enough to make a novel-length story, even though he has a fully developed world, lots of characters, and an extensive plot outline.
We talked about what he doesn’t have, to flesh out something that would translate to a novel.
First, there’s not enough sub-plots. The major plot line, like I said, is done well. But without sub-plots to hold it up, the main plot will sag, most likely about mid-way through. The lack of sub-plots is almost always the reason a first draft dies about halfway in.
Second, there’s no conflicts between the characters. Either external, or internal. He realized that these characters all get along too well.
And third, in a short story it’s okay for the good guys to win the battle. In a novel, it won’t work to have the good guys winning every single battle as they make their way forward to the final scenes. So they need to lose, and there has to be reasons for them to lose, and ways for them to learn and continue.
While we talked, I remembered one of my favorite mysteries, that I never did anything with. I loved the premise, loved the characters, really loved the setting. I finished it, beta readers loved it. But there were lots of problems.
Not enough characters, so the antagonist was obvious. Not enough sub-plots to carry the novel. Predictable battles. Sound familiar? Sure did to me, even if the genres were completely different.
I’d like to go back and edit that story, but it needs more than just editing. It needs serious revision work. I’ve tried that a couple times but wow, what a task. It might be simpler to just take the premise, hang on to a few characters, and rewrite the whole thing.
Thinking about that story also reminds me of a funny conversation. The foundation of that mystery is a cask of Highland Park single malt scotch. I’m partial to Highland Park even though I don’t like scotch, because the distillery is on the Orkney Islands and I have friends in northern Scotland. That’s the main reason I chose that scotch.
My husband collects single malt scotch. So as I wrote the mystery, I would go to him and say, ‘I need a whisky with a peat flavor’ or ‘I need something that’s fruity’ and he would supply me with way more information on scotch then what ended up in the story. Plus he’d have to extensively sample, to find just the right one to meet my needs.
When it came time to do our taxes that year, our accountant told me we could write off the scotch my husband bought as research for the story. I thought that was a bit farfetched and didn’t believe the CPA.
My husband, on the other hand, decided the mystery needed to become a series. Set in different distilleries that we would have to visit for research.
I guess one of these days I’ll have to rewrite that mystery and create that series. Just to keep the scotch flowing and the husband happy.