My first decision will have to be about the length of the story because that will influence the complexity of the plot. Is it going to be a short story (up to 15000 words)? Will it be a novella (15000 – 30000 words)? Or am I going for a full-length novel.
The last few pieces I’ve written have been full-length novels. They’re fulfilling but time consuming, and a lot of hard work. I’ve written a couple of short stories in there as well. Some of the short stories have begun as a character exploration for the novels, some have been custom-written for a specific market. The short stories are quick and either easy or super challenging. Sometimes they fall into place and I’m done in a few days. Other times, particularly when I’ve spent a lot of time writing ‘long’, I need to heavily edit the story, pare it back to the basics.
A novella falls somewhere in between those two. You can explore the complexities of the plot and the characters a lot more than in a short, but you don’t need multiple plot lines to keep things moving.
Deciding on the length of the story comes out of the first few scenes I’ve written. With The Gingerbread House, I’m at 2000 words and have just introduced the two characters. At this stage, it could be any length. I made the arbitrary decision that this story isn’t going to be a novel. It’s not going to take me six months to write and edit. This decision was partly made because I don’t have the time right now to devote to a long work, and partly because, with the amount of effort required for a novel, I want the possibility of being paid for it when I’m finished. That’s not going to be the case with this story because I’m posting it free every week.
That leaves the choice between short story and novella. I’m going to aim for a short story, with the option of a novella. I think it’s possible to complete a basic plot within the 15000 word limit, but I want the option to expand it if the plot becomes more complex than I think it will.
Length influences plot.
The plot is influenced by the length of the story. Generally, the shorter the work, the less complex the plot. In a short story, there’s room for only one plot arc, and one character arc for each character.
Plot, in very basic terms can be encapsulated by the question: what happens next? I’ve discussed a number of plotting tools that can be used when writing in previous blog entries so I won’t go into them again here. I’ll make a very basic list of what will happen with Andrew and Thomas.
As with characters, my plots evolve as the story is written and I learn more about the characters and the situation. With a longer work, the differences between plan and fruition are marked. With this story, that probably won’t be the case.
- Andrew is going to market to buy a stall and is trapped by a magical coin.
- He appears in Thomas’s house.
- Thomas’s magic is ineffective while he’s trapped. Andrew discovers previously unknown magical talent but it manifests in his baking.
- Andrew and Thomas formulate a plan to escape the entrapment.
- All their efforts to get the gremlins to release them fail.
- They are left with one option to escape but it means they have to kill the gremlins. Andrew is a baker, not a murderer. Thomas is a wizard and could easily kill his mistress, but the gremlins aren’t really evil. Both must choose a path that will test their moral values.
- They trap the gremlins and prepare the spell that will release them from the gremlins’ magic. The mistress arrives to retrieve her gremlins. Fear her wrath.
- The house explodes. Momentary confusion over whether or not Andrew, Thomas, the mistress and/or gremlins have survived.
- Option one: Andrew continues on his way to Eden. Probably will still want to purchase a bakery but will want an apothecary nearby for Thomas, and a house in between the two for them to live in.
Option two: Thomas takes over the mistress’s house and business, frees the gremlins. Andrew runs his magical bakery from there, specialising in products that free people from persecution and unlawful incarceration.
Now to continue The Gingerbread House.
Andrew glanced around the room. “Is Mistress Osborne that crazy witch that lives beyond the Troll Bridge?” Thomas nodded. “Why are you here instead of there, studying?”
Thomas’s shoulders slumped, then straightened again. “I’m more powerful than she is.”
“So, you’re here by choice? But can’t get out?” Andrew looked around again. “Why would you do that?”
“I’m not here by choice! She’s trapped me here because she thinks I’m going to drain her magic and take over her business.” Thomas’s fingers curled into frustrated fists.
“I didn’t think you could take someone’s magic without their permission.”
“So her thinking you’ll take her magic is what—paranoia? And if you’re stronger than she is, how can she keep you trapped here?”
Thomas’s shoulders slumped. “She didn’t cast the spells. Her pet gremlins did.”
“Are gremlins more powerful than wizards? I thought they were cute little things that looked like children even though they’re ancient.”
“They’re not more powerful; they have different magic that wizards can’t control.” Thomas spoke through gritted teeth. “Yes, gremlins look like children at a cursory glance.” He jammed his hands on his hips. “Now tell me who the hell you are that you could circumvent all the spells surrounding this place and waltz in here?”
Andrew grinned and settled more comfortably on his seat. “I’m Andrew,” he repeated. “I’m a baker.” His grin widened at the expression on Thomas’s face. Winding Thomas up was almost as easy, and way more fun, than teasing his five-year-old sister. He held the coin up for Thomas to see, then put it on the table and slid it closer to him. “This is what brought me here.”
Thomas scowled at the coin and slowly reached over to touch it with one fingertip. He jumped back as if scalded. “It’s mine.” He glanced at Andrew before returning his attention to the coin. As he picked it up it glowed, just as it had for Andrew on the path. Thomas closed his fingers around the coin. His eyelids slid shut and he hummed, a deep, resonant sound that echoed through Andrew’s body. The hum continued until Andrew felt he had to say something, if only to remind Thomas he was there.
Before Andrew could do more than open his mouth, Thomas’s eyes popped open. “I didn’t think the spell worked.”
“When I first arrived here and worked out what was keeping me here, I tried to cast spells out into the world so someone who could circumvent the gremlins’ magic could come and rescue me. I didn’t think any of them worked.”
Andrew nodded at the coin. He knew he should be smiling and brushing off Thomas’s intimation that Andrew was there to rescue him, but the best he could manage was a grimace. “It didn’t work. I’m a baker. I don’t have any magic.”
Thomas’s shoulders slummed even further than before. “Then I’m stuck here forever.” He glared at Andrew. “And so are you.”