I began preparing for this week’s blog post on Wednesday night. As fate would have it, this is not that blog post. No, the real blog post will have to wait another week or two. Fortunately for you, gentle reader, this is probably the better blog post anyway.
The original plan for today? Publish another opening chapter. I’ve got two of them under my belt already and, thought, “What the heck! Why not just keep going?” As I sifted through my remaining manuscripts, I decided on Ronald.
I began this story in 2013 and really fleshed it out during NaNoWriMo that year. I didn’t win, ending up some nineteen thousand words short of the finish line. But I did like the story. Like all Draft Zero manuscripts, it needed a ton of work, but there was definitely something there.
It’s the story of a writer who (ha ha) can’t get his book published. After years of rejection, he happens to run into someone who can help him, but not in any way that he ever expected. But more on that later, when the first chapter gets cleaned up. (As of this moment, it’s severely boring.)
But back to today’s topic.
When I hit the 31,000-word mark, I also hit a dilemma. How long should this story be? The general answer to that question is always: a story is as long as it needs to be and not one word more. (Or, as the tired old simile goes, “It’s like a miniskirt: long enough to cover the important parts but short enough to keep everyone’s attention.”)
So just how long does this story need to be? I had originally planned to take this out to a full-length novel. But the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent that I needed to start killing a few darlings, not padding it out to unnecessary lenghts. Longer isn’t always better, with Exhibit A being Ron Howard’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
I began to think “short story.” Short stories are definitely short. Based on guidelines established by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a short story contains fewer than 7,500 words. That would mean cutting over three-quarters of the manuscript. Not impossible, but not exactly trivial either.
So on Wednesday night, I decided to go check out some short stories. My idea was to read a few and to get a better feel for my goal. I clicked on my internets, went to the googles, and searched list of popular short stories. My search terms quickly led me to this page where I scanned the list, picked a story at random, and sized it up.
This first short story was indeed short: only in the two thousand word range. So I decided to try a second one. My eyes caught the title The Old Man and the Sea. “Hmmm, Hemingway? I didn’t know that was a short story.” Turns out it wasn’t. I read the title wrong. This short story was called The Old Man of the Sea by W. W. Jacobs.
I popped it open, selected all the text, and pasted it into my text editor to get the word count. Once I had the count, the internet distracted me (again) and I forgot all about my find. That is until later when recovering from my distractions, I started closing up browser tabs and stopped dead in my tracks:
You’ll either see it immediately or you won’t. As it so happens, my brain is highly tuned to this pattern, so my eyes immediately darted to . . . “Charlie Hills.”
My first thought was, “Did I fill out a comment or something on this page?” No. Of course I didn’t. A quick scan of the page revealed all. This perfectly random, hey-let’s-check-out-a-sample-short-story, the-second-one-I-looked-at just happened to contain a character named Charlie Hills. Without a doubt, that’s the weirdest thing to happen to me all week.