Monday, July 25, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Short Story Time

I'm doing revisions on Discovery now that I've gotten some feedback from my critiquers. However, in the meantime, I'm writing some short stories.

Not all novelists can write short stories, but I believe all novelists should try. Short stories are a lot of fun, and they give you a chance to explore parts of your characters that really don't fit in the novel but aren't big enough to constitute a novel in and of themselves. For example, I just wrote a short story based on Deryl Stephens, my psychic in Mind Over Mind. Deryl's abilities came upon him suddenly with puberty, in a well-to-do boys' school. Deryl's mother was killed a few years earlier, and he "lives" with his aunt and uncle, which really means, he's in year-round boarding school with holidays at their house. So while they love him, there's no real relationship there, and certainly not one where he can say, "I've got telepathic powers!" and they'd actually believe him. In the novel, I'd talked a little about some of the stuff he went through, but the book takes place five years later.

However, Damnation Books has a call for entries for an anthology about the more realistic side of having superpowers, and I thought it'd be a great chance to explore some of those torturous first days of having powers-and not being able to control them. "Illusion" follows Deryl through a day of school, from the morning ritual of reminding himself who he is, to accidentally solving an algebra problem with calculus, because that's how the teacher would do it, to inadvertently using telekinesis on a bully to stop him from hurting someone else to once again, and trying (and failing) to convince the school counselor that he really is psychic. It's a sad, dark story.

There isn't enough in the story, however, to make a novel; in fact, it took two days to beef it up to the minimum word requirement. But in writing it, I learned a lot about Deryl, and (my apologies to Deryl) I enjoyed imagining this horrible day for him.

As the cool water struck his back and plastered his hair to his scalp, he began the mantra: "My name is Deryl Stephens. I'm thirteen years, four months, and seven days old. I'm in eighth grade. My favorite subject is science. I like meteorology best. My worse subject is social studies. I like raspberries and hate chocolate…" Every detail he could think of that was his, he muttered aloud, forcing himself to hear it above the wants, needs, pains and thoughts of the population of the George Weinmann School for Boys. Sometimes, it was enough.

Once showered and dressed, he reached under his bed and pulled out the bottle of Motrin hidden there and poured eight into his hand. The bottle rattled. He'd have to buy or steal more soon. He took two in anticipation of the headache to come and stuffed the rest into his pocket. He shoved the bottle back into the mattress, through the tear, securing it among the filling, then pulled out a small framed photo. He ran his fingers over his mother's hair, traced her smile. Her eyes looked wrong in the photo; they always did. No camera could capture the life that shone from them, or the hidden knowledge that darkened their depths. She would have understood what he was going through; she would have helped him. But it was too late; he couldn’t talk to her now, and he couldn't imagine what she would say. He shoved the photo back next to the painkillers, then went to wash the tears off his face.

He checked his schedule and his homework, making sure they held his name and not someone else's. He recited his mantra along with his first hour classroom number. Finally, with a deep breath, like a swimmer about to jump the high dive, he pulled open the door and forced his feet to take him to his--and not someone else's--first class.

I'll let you know if anything comes from it. In the meantime, I'm writing another superhero story based on an idea Rob came up with. "The Mover" begins like this: They say that superpowers should teach you an important life lesson, like "With great power comes great responsibility." Well, my superpowers taught me, "You really aren't cut out for great responsibility." It's a lot of fun.

Do you like to write short stories? How about read them? Do short stories make you want to buy a book about that character?

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