Over the September long weekend I did the 3 Day Novel. I don’t want to write about that experience so much (though if you write fiction and have never tried it, give it a go!) but I went through a new, for me, writing experience in the process.
I was uncertain about participating in the competition because 1) I had been struggling to write lately, and 2) I had no plan; no plot, no characters, just a vague idea that I wanted to try my hand at some YA simply because I like to try my hand at different genres.
In the last couple of days prior I researched some typical adolescent worries. Then I took those and thought about how they might present themselves as characteristics or actions. For some I had more than one since any one could present themselves in a number of ways. For example, take school grades and homework. One person might study and worry, another person might procrastinate and panic, but that same person may in another situation actually study hard. Adolescents are human too, and their choice of action or reaction can vary.
Having a list of possible ways in which these concerns might present (I’ve been watching a lot of old episodes of “House”, btw) I started attaching some of them to three different characters. But as of midnight on Friday, start time for the 3 Day Novel, that’s all I had.
For the novel competition you can prepare as much as you like but you cannot do any writing. I spent the first hour or so of my time not writing but creating “moments”; story elements that are, for the most part, shorter than chapters or scenes. For example, one “moment” was “girl 1 tells the others that she heard that someone at another school committed suicide”. That’s too short for a chapter, but I decided on a number of moments that would present the characteristics of my characters to the reader.
When I started writing, all I did was to pick and choose moments to write, moments to flesh out and bring to life. I didn’t necessarily do them in order of occurrence and I didn’t worry about how long or how these moments would work together. I just made these moments into fiction.
Toward the end I started thinking in terms of balance and time lines and rearranged some of the planned order of these moments. I also started to add to some of them and fill them out into chapters, and in a couple instances joined two moments into one chapter. Eventually I realized that I was pretty much done; all the moments were down on paper. Then it was time to finalize the order and to write the ending and the opening.
As it turned out, this last stage happened during the evening of the second day, meaning that I was way ahead of schedule. It also cut my novel short resulting in a 10,000 short story rather than a novel. But forcing more material into the story would only decrease the quality as the word count increased. That’s not to say that a year from now and after multiple reviews that this won’t be a 25,000 word story, but within the single remaining day I wasn’t going to improve the story and add substantial length at the same time, so I edited it and sent it off for the competition entry as it was.
I think the result is not a bad short story, but more important to me is the approach to writing that I learned; defining characters with characteristics, figuring out how those characteristics might present (or in reverse order; characteristics then characters), designing moments to represent the characters to the reader, then putting those moments down on paper without thinking about chapters or flow or sequence.