Monday, July 21, 2008

Bob Avey guest poster

As promised, Bob Avey has written an interesting article on going from short stories to writing novels. Here is his posting. See you all in the postings - E :)

From 2,500 to 80,000 in 4.5 seconds
By Bob Avey

Transitions of any kind offer the potential for difficulties, but changing from a writing form that possesses unexplored territory to one you know even less about serves up a different set of problems. When it comes to writing, as with any endeavor, a community of like-minded people can offer support and understanding, which can go a long way, but sometimes following the advice of others can have unexpected results.

I began writing at an early age, when I was in the ninth grade to be exact, but, for reasons I don’t really understand, I didn’t take it seriously until I was caught up in the throws of a rather intense midlife crisis during my late thirties. Of course, I’d fallen in love with reading many years before that, when my third grade teacher gave us a break from Dick and Jane and introduced us to fairy tales, fantasy stories that offered interesting characters with problems worth reading about. From that, my starting out with fantasy short stories when I began writing exhibits a logical path. However, by that time, due to a fascination with writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, my literary tastes had begun to lean toward the dark side.

At the apex of this psychological meltdown, my wife and I decided to move the family back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we’re both from. I’d spent years traveling the southern half of the country, working in the oil and gas industry and we both harbored desires of getting back to our roots. Apart from the love of my wife and family, about the only thing holding me together during this period was my desire to write, and once we were settled in I contacted the local library system and asked about writers’ groups in the area. The library staff put me in touch with The Tulsa NightWriters, a group I still belong to. After attending a few meetings, I learned that some of the members had formed a critique group, which met once a week. I made a few inquiries and soon I was sitting in a room, reading out loud words that no one outside the family had previously seen or heard. As it turned out, the rather conservative members of the group weren’t exactly thrilled about what I was writing. Looking back, I guess some of the stories were pretty bad. Anyway, the group encouraged me to abandon short stories and begin a novel. In addition they suggested, perhaps a bit more subtly, that I choose a more serious subject matter. You can probably imagine how I felt. Being a new writer, unaccustomed to constructive criticism, I was devastated.

As a result, I dropped out of the critique group. But that didn’t last. A few weeks later, I sat at home, brooding over what I’d thought at the time to be overly harsh words, when something happened. An idea began to form. Stories come to me in different ways, but often they will start with what I call a snippet of character monologue or dialogue. I don’t think I’m schizophrenic or anything, but I often hear – actually it’s a thought process, but it seems like they are talking – my characters talk. In this particular instance, a rather forceful character said, “You can’t fill out a homicide report, indicating the suspect to be a ghost.” That caught my attention. It was obviously some kind of cop story, which should satisfy the conservative critique group members, but at the same time there was this ghost element, which gave me something to work with. I went to my desk and wrote a few pages. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it, I was still a little miffed, or hurt over the group’s comments, so I decided to poke a little fun at them. I would give them what they wanted, only in an exaggerated format, everything, from characterization to dialogue would be over the top. That’s how I wrote it. When it came time for the next critique session, I grabbed my pumped up pages and attended the meeting. However, when my turn to read came up, I almost chickened out. After all, I didn’t really want to make anyone angry, which is what I was sure would happen if I continued. Before I could stop myself, though, I began to read my little literary joke. I nearly fell out of my chair when the comments started. The group members were not offended. On the contrary, they loved it, praising me to the point of embarrassment. Well, at that point I couldn’t very well tell them it was a joke, so I just kept writing. About a year later, I had a completed novel manuscript. And that’s how I made the transition from short story writing, to writing novels.

Being around people who offer support and caring through a sharing of interests not only makes things easier, but is also an avenue to lasting friendships. Similarly, making the transition from one form of writing to another should not be feared, but welcomed as a means of learning and an expansion of horizons. Don’t be afraid to take a little advice along the way. You never know where it might lead.


Anonymous said...

I want to thank Elysabeth's Emerald City for hosting this portion of my virtual tour. If anyone has any questions about me, the book or writing in general, I'd be happy to answer them. Thanks.


Cheryl said...

Amen, Bob. I can't do without my support group. Great post!