Ten numbers. Ten years. A lifetime. In the grand scheme of things, how much do we actually change in ten years? Quite a bit but some of us remains the same, and that’s what I’m trying to discover, that one part of my character Nia (And you thought this was about me? Ha.) that makes her who she is. If we remember from a couple of weeks ago, my YA short story, Tongue Tied, was rejected. That’s fine. It’s part of the job, but I was left at a crossroads of sorts. Do I shorten it by 3,000 words or more to try other magazines? Or do I turn it into a story for adults, which is always a little more lenient on word count? I went with the latter.
So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks avoiding it, chewing on it, and wishing I could come up with another idea altogether because what’s the point of working on Tongue Tied for the umpteenth time. What made me work on it and not bury it in a folder called “Don’t read any of these unless you want to cry?” Because it’s worth saving and reworking. It’s funny, or so I’ve been told. I’ve read it too many times to know anymore, but people have chuckled. In the case of my dad, smiled slightly, but he’s not one given to outrageous bursts of enjoyment. I sat at my computer one night (unusual for me since I usually write by hand) and let myself go. I wrote 700 words, and they weren’t all bad.
Nia had to grow up, lose a little innocence, self-absorption, and the drama that comes with being hormonal and eighteen. She needed to establish independence, autonomy, and some sort of life outside of school. So did all the other characters. How do you age your characters gracefully without losing who they were? Without losing the vision of your original idea? As with every story or essay I’ve ever written, I can’t possibly imagine how it’ll end up without writing first, maybe not all of it, but some of it. I have to get something down on paper in story form, in this case, and then I take a step back and think about it. I can then write some plot points and more in-depth character descriptions, and then, assuming it all goes well, I can write the first draft. My brother once said about introductions to essays, “How do you know what you’re going to write about before you write it?” As in, write the middle first and then write the introduction. It helped me on my essays, so I’ve modified that approach for my writing in general.
I now have a 28-year-old character who still gets tongue tied around the guy she likes, whose best friend still causes blunt force traumas to every man who sees her. Yet, Nia has a more complex life now because she’s worried about other things—money, aging parents, feeling like she’s losing her youth etc. But now, Nia has caused me a problem. I don’t think I can keep it short story length. I think I’ve mentioned this problem before. I asked Smarty Pants if I should try to keep it short or make it into a novel, and he enthusiastically said, “Novel!” He’s been one of my greatest advocates for Nia’s insecure word vomiting when it’s not frozen in her esophagus. If I take his advice, I have to come up with even more complications for her life. I’m not sure if I can do that. It seems to me a lot of my writing should be novellas, not short stories or novels.
Maybe, if I work really really hard, Nia can continue to sparkle in her older age. Maybe I’ll be able to follow that sparkle into a full length novel. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find an agent who adores her timidity and uncertainty as much as Smarty Pants.
P.S. I’ve decided to mess around with graphics. I don’t have one ready for this post yet, but I might add one later. Just you wait. This is either going to be awesome or a complete disaster.