One of my past NaNoWriMo failures was an attempted expansion of my short story ebook, “The Angel of Lies.” In it, the story picked back up with Bobby Reith as a young adult, just graduated from college, and how he had been in and out of therapy since his encounter with the dreaded Angel Statue in the city cemetery. A school friend hooks back up with him and takes him out to lunch. During lunch, Bobby discusses the statue and the effect that fateful night has had on his life. They finish lunch, and as they’re headed for the car, the friend says that he needs to run an errand before he can take Bobby home. Once in the car, after they’ve traveled a few blocks, Bobby realizes where his friend is taking him — back to the statue as shock therapy, natch! — and he grabs the steering wheel, causing a tremendous crash that kills his friend. And then —
I have no idea. The expansion ran out of gas after a couple of thousand words. Even though a friend of mine recently expressed interest in a novel-length version of “Angel,” there’s no there there. There’s no place for Bobby to go because there’s no place for Bobby to go. End, finé, ring down the curtain because the fat lady sang.
That’s not to mean that I’ll never expand the story. It just means as of right now, it considers itself finished. Sometime in the future it could possibly shamble its way back into my head with new life, but that doesn’t seem likely.
There’s a long tradition of expanding short stories into novels, especially in genre categories like science fiction. A few examples include: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (short story 1977, novel 1985); Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (novelette 1959, novel 1966); “Night Surf” (1969), expanded into The Stand (1978), both by Stephen King; “The Sentinel” (1951), expanded into (the novel) 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968), both by Arthur C. Clarke; and “The Fireman” (1951), expanded into Fahrenheit 451 (1953), both by Ray Bradbury.
There’s also a book type called the “fix-up,” which is basically a novel that’s been cobbled together out of a series of short stories. Examples include: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King (five novellas published separately in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction); The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury, from a series of stories that appeared all over the place, including The Saturday Evening Post; and Lawrence Block’s first three books about a hit man named Keller — Hit Man, Hit List, and Hit Parade — which began life as a series of stories in Playboy.
A novel, obviously, gives you more room to explore your theme (or themes), introduce new characters, add subplots, and let your story range over a longer stretch of time than a short story traditionally can. Layoff, this year’s NaNoWriMo project, feels like a novel and not a short story. There’s a lifetime of insults, depredations, and degradations that my main character has to make up for, so I’m going to give him the room for revenge.
Hmm. There’s an idea. Maybe he’ll establish a Room for Revenge, a combination planning/souvenir room. Maybe a killing room, too, if need be.
Where is that notebook? (write write scribble scribble)