Sadly, I have canned my novel.

This does not mean, however, that I have given up.  The problem that I had was one that I later found out is quite common in the speculative fiction genre, according to Orson Scott Card in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, the bible of writing in said genre.  The problem is, I didn’t sufficiently create the world in which my characters live.

You see, speculative fiction writers (horror, paranormal, urban fantasy, high fantasy, and science fiction) write by a different drumbeat.  This is because the rules of the world are entirely speculative, hence the name.  The world as we know it isn’t the world as they know it  And herein lies the problem.  If I, as the Creator of said world, do not know how the world exists or works, then how can I write about it?

Having an advanced magical system isn’t necessary.  I do not need to have complex rules like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  On the other hand, authors can and do create a world where none of the magic is explained other than “it is” — a highly grave mistake for anyone other than J.R.R. Tolkien.  But really, we don’t really give much credit to those who are so simplistic, no matter how successful his or her books may be.

However, I do need to have, at least, a rough idea of how the world works.

All speculative fiction stories have to create a strange world and introduce the reader to it — but good fantasy must also establish a whole new set of natural laws, explain them right up front, and then faithfully abide by them throughout.

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

And that is exactly the problem I now face.  I have written approximately 3/4 of my book, only to find out that I can’t end it properly because I have no idea how they got there, in the magical sense, at least.  I came up with this fantastic idea, or the rough edges of an idea, and I went back to revise everything I have done so far, only to discover that I should really can the entire book and start over, this time doing an entire world in depth before I begin.  Because with speculative fiction, it isn’t enough just to have a plot and some characters.  I have to have all the scene and rules, too.

That’s ok, though, because these last three weeks I’ve embarked on a quest of self discovery.  In other words, I’ve read some books on how to write fantasy, namely the one mentioned above, and also On Writing by Stephen King.  (Stephen King is also a speculative fiction writer — horror is in the same category as sci fi and fantasy.)  Like it or not, my path to being a fantasy writer is already paved for me.  Who knew there were rules for such things.

“Overnight success” like the kind of J.K. Rowling does exist, even more so today than it did when Card and King were getting started, but that doesn’t deny that for every Rowling, a hundred more average writers get their start the old-fashioned, tried and true method.  I’m talking about publishing short fiction.

I’ve never really been a short fiction writer.  I’ve done essays and memoirs and all sorts of literary fictional pieces that were no more than 1,000 words, but never something in the range of 7,500 to 15,000 words, or worse, a novella (30,000 words).  So, now, like learning how to become a novelist (to which my first attempt has utterly failed, but to which I do not feel badly for that), I have to learn how to be a short fiction writer.

The advantage of playing by the rules is that I am expected to write short fiction, so magazines and anthologies are expected to read a no-named person such as myself, and accept it, because only new writers really send their stuff to these magazines, anyway.  I mean, come on, does Stephen King write short fiction anymore?  Why would he get $400 for something when he can make millions churning it out as a novel?

So I have set a new criteria, putting my novel on the back burner (for the time being anyway).

  1. Write a bunch of short stories, no more than 7,500 words each.  Enter lots of contests and submit to lots of magazines.
  2. Outline my novella, which will not be speculative fiction, for the 3DN (approximately 25,000 words), then write it.
  3. Write more short fiction, enter more contests and submit more to magazines.
  4. Outline my second novella, which will probably be speculative fiction, for the NaNoWriMo (approximately 50,000 words), then write it.
  5. Write more short fiction, enter more contests and submit more to magazines.
  6. One day, enter the Suvudu contest; maybe more are out there, too.

Time to put myself into organizational mode!  More on this next week.