Monthly Archives: September 2013

The 3-Day Novel vs. Story

This past Labour Day weekend I wrote a 3-Day Novel. There are far less intense ways to spend the last long weekend of summer. I entered the contest on a whim, because two weeks prior to the deadline for entries, I’d written three stories in a single sitting – each the result of the one before it – or about 5,000 words in eight hours. Having accomplished that, I figured writing an entire novella in three days would be a cinch.

I’d completed 3-Day Novels twice when I was a younger. A lot younger. Shortly after competing in my second one I quit writing altogether. Not because of the contest or the writing.

I live with chronic pain, adding another level of difficulty to the challenge. I thought I’d sent modest goals and a reasonable writing schedule – 16 hours of writing each day, rather than six–eight – so my lone goal was to complete a 27,000 word story in 72 hours.

I wrote 22,300 before the deadline. The last hour was magical. The first twenty minutes elapsed over a period of days. I wrote 1,000 words inside those twenty minutes. Because of the storyline I’d gotten myself entangled with, I needed about twenty more magical hours to either write myself out of it, or euthanize a segment of the story and start fresh. Story had taught me another lesson. As it stood, the story was structurally flawed, needing about another 100–150 pages to come together as a unit.

Story tells you what it wants to be. I’ve learnt to listen to what Story has to say, so when I write I feel as if I am transcribing a movie, or taking dictation for Story. The characters tell me who they are and what they want to say. My job is to ensure the spelling, punctuation and grammar are acceptable. Sometimes I fail to get even that small task correct. And sometimes, while acknowledging Story’s wisdom, I ignore it.

The scene quoted below was given to me by Story:

The raven alit on the tree that was Long Alex and whispered into its ear.

“The two-legged you seek is about a half-mile southwest of us. I think he suspects our intent, Chief.”

The tree stirred, shaking off the raven. The tree was, once more, Long Alex and Nuxwa.

“S’aa, did you give away your position?”

“Perhaps. But if I did, it was in the execution of my duties, and a modest underestimation of that white man’s sense of his surroundings.”

“Hmm. Is that arrogance I hear in your tone?”

“Do you not have more important matters to tend to, Great Chief? Perhaps you should hurry to inform your employer as to the locality of his prey.”

“Suspect. He’s a suspect in a crime.”

“I’ve heard the talk among the loud ones. In their eyes he is guilty of a great crime. I doubt very much he will see another sunrise.”

Long Alex extended his forefinger to S’aa. He fluttered his wings as Long Alex lifted him up to meet his gaze. S’aa cocked his head, blinking at the human.

“What sort of talk?”

“The usual sort of things one expects from your kind. Treachery. Murder. Betrayal.”

“You over-simplify our nature, old friend.”

“And you might be too trusting.” S’aa cawed loudly and flew north.

“What do you think, Nuxwa?” The stallion nodded its head and high-stepped free of the shadows. Instead of riding a cushion of dust, Nuxwa pounded the wagon road’s calloused surface. Long Alex would still capture the suspect, that was his job. But now it would be difficult for Mister Roderick to be ambushed by anyone with bad intent.

It wasn’t part of my original plan. Long Alex’s character was supposed to play a small role in two significant scenes. A number of other characters had written themselves into the story, too. Story said, “Drop the other bits, this is where you need to take it.”

“You’re right,” I said, “But I can make this work.” I’d already completed over 3,000 words of the secondary timeline, so I had to make it work, because of the deadline. Story laughed at me.