Reached a point last night on SF story where I realized I was writing the piece (or at least that section) from the wrong character’s viewpoint.
Don’t get me wrong, I was doing a good job establishing this character’s quirks. He was a bit of unsympathetic, but I felt I could redeem him by the story’s end (or the novel’s end). He’s by himself, complaining about his friends and how they seem to have abandoned him to his fate. The dialogue presented a little back story at the same time it illustrated his mood. I also had him imagine what his friends were doing so I could sneak in some world-building without it seeming like an info dump.
I’ve had the tendency to create broad, panoramic “the hills are alive with the sound of music” openings to stories, not just novels. Probably because all the short work I’ve tackled wants to be a novel.
I have finished a couple short stories recently where I didn’t do that, but the two #wip that I’m on right now, which contain scenes that could work as stand-alone shorts, want more lebensraum than a short story offers. I’m not saying I can’t write a novelette or novella and sell it. An editor will a long story from someone relatively unknown (and while I know I’m known I know I’m still unknown to some extent). It’s the story that matters; it will find a home, despite its length, if it’s good. Quality wins.
And while I want to write novels — these two, especially — I want to write short stories as well, because my muse is a bit of a magpie. Knocking out a short story while working on a longer project lets me become better at handling multiple tasks. It’s a pill for writer’s block.
But what it really allows me to do is put myself into other character’s heads. Especially if the short story is set in the same universe of the novel. Even if words never reach the page, these stories about other characters tell me what they’re doing when they’re not “center stage.”
And tell me when I’ve gone done the wrong path.
Sure, I can keep my unsympathetic character. I can still work on his story arc. But does he need to be front and center? Am I supposed to tell his story or someone else’s at this point? The idea is to create scenes that hook readers (and editors).
When story goes wrong, start over. If you’re trying to pass through a maze and you come to a dead end, you don’t keep walking into that wall of thorns. You turn around.