Fiction Writers Unite: Short stories, novels, fan fiction, it's all good

So we have NaNoWriMo threads, and those who bedazzle our front page with their articles have some pages, but I don't believe we have a thread for those Goodjers who write fiction. With as many brilliant people as we have bouncing around in this community, that seems like a void that should be addressed. I'm hoping this thread can be a place in which we discuss ongoing projects, successes and missteps, discuss the craft of writing as a whole, and offer support to those of us currently beating our heads against our keyboards because our characters just won't behave.

Well, I'm interested in hearing more about what people here are up to, so I guess I'll briefly expose my own ambitions in this field.

I've been working on a novel manuscript for the last two-and-a-half years—a fantasy novel, unsurprisingly for those who know me. A story about revolution, conspiracy and murder in a city riven by social and racial prejudices, with the lead character a somewhat alienated young detective in what passes for the city's police force. Psychic viruses, illusionists and psychotic spirits spice up the more mundane arms smuggling and acts of terrorism (both on the regime and insurrectionist sides) that destabilise the peace that the protagonist is desperately trying to preserve.

On the actual writing side, I written most of the story—but there's still a lot of editing work required to stitch together the pieces, my writing style being somewhat fragmentary. The plot is too complicated: a nightmare to put together, and yet I've sunk so much time and effort and am so close to integrating it together that I feel I just have to follow through now. I'm also struggling with the very beginning and the very end, the two parts that professional writers recommend getting out of the way first, because even when I understand the theory of how I'm supposed to go about writing a book, in practice I always have to do things the hard way.

I know several writers that approach large-scale projects in a fragmentary way, but I can't really understand how you do that. Everything I've written has been beginning to end, primarily because if I don't continue pushing forward with the plot, the brain weasels start encouraging me to go back and tweak everything I've already written until it's perfect, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that anything I write is good enough. I got stuck in a decade long writer's block loop because of that, even losing a publishing contract because I couldn't get out of my own way.

Thankfully, I figured out a way that works for me. I don't know that there's any right or wrong way to go about writing a novel, I think we just each have to figure out what works for us.

So in regards to my current projects, I just finished editing the first draft of a fantasy novel, Resonant, which is with readers now. I've started on the next in the planned trilogy, and while I have a loose outline in place, I'm only about 15,000 words into it at this point.

Writing Resonant was a surreal experience for me. I still don't know entirely what broke my writer's block, but I started it at the end of March, and finished the 230K long draft in September. The first 20K was a bit of a struggle, but at a certain point, it gained its own momentum. There were days I was putting eight to nine thousand words on the page, and it was kind of all I could think about. I gave the initial draft to a good friend of mine (English professor who's been editing my work for over 20 years), and he gave me some great notes. I finished rewriting the second draft a few weeks ago, and sent it to some Goodjers and readers who I trust.

It's first-person limited, which I've realized is a bit unusual for a fantasy novel. The other issue I've run into is the length. I decided to enter PitchWars, an online competition to be paired with a professional mentor to help prepare your manuscript, query letter, synopsis, etc., and quickly learned how many agents and publishers have hard word caps at about 140K. So now I have to figure out if I can gut enough from the book to get it about 90K shorter, or if I should split it into two books, which would lead to me pitching a cliffhanger for my first book. Not sure which option is less appealing.

I've been thinking about writing a novel, just for fun. Probably never will, though.

MechaSlinky wrote:

I've been thinking about writing a novel, just for fun. Probably never will, though.

You should! Mostly because I want other people to suffer and agonize under imposter syndrome like I do.

I'm not writing a novel, just because I don't have the bandwidth for it now (probably ever, considering everything I've got going), but mostly fanfics, shorts, a multi chapter, but short works. Looking forward to writing more for NaNoWriMo (that's right, I'm a rebel plantser!).

trichy wrote:
MechaSlinky wrote:

I've been thinking about writing a novel, just for fun. Probably never will, though.

You should! Mostly because I want other people to suffer and agonize under imposter syndrome like I do.

Okay, I'm in!

I got a perfectly lovely rejection letter from PitchWars. Blah.

trichy wrote:

I got a perfectly lovely rejection letter from PitchWars. Blah.

That's rough. I've yet to have that particular wonderful experience in this domain, but as an academic I've known rejection of my work for conferences and such—but I also know it's all part of the territory (and I guess I know you know that as well).

So I'm struggling with an issue that I mentioned earlier. In the rejection letter I got from PitchWars, the agent told me my first chapter is outstanding, my writing level is in the top five percent, and that my query is fairly well done. She also was very blunt that no agent will even take a look at my manuscript, because no agent wants to take on a debut author with a 210,000 word novel. It's too risky, and too much work. The only authors that are able to publish books that size are those who are well established and have proven that an audience exists for them.

Resonant is the first book in a planned trilogy following one specific character. I'm 60K words into the second book, The Myre, which is coming along quite nicely. I also have two other books outlined that aren't part of that character's trilogy, but tie in tangentially while working as standalone books. They all take place in the same universe, a continent called Alddarri.

I've received several suggestions for how to move forward, and I would appreciate any thoughts.

- Break up Resonant into two books. The problem is, those who have read it all agree that there's only one natural break point, and that would result in the first book ending with a major cliffhanger. Debut novels that end in cliffhangers are only slightly less well received than debut novels with 210K words. Not a great option.

- Edit Resonant down to a more acceptable length (no more than 150K words). That would mean cutting sixty thousand words from a book that I honestly don't think has that much to cut. I may be wrong, and I'm going to do a full rewrite next month to polish the language. But I don't know that I can cut enough to bring the novel's length down without really hurting the story.

- Finish Resonant and The Myre, set them aside, and write one of the standalone books set in the same universe, with the goal of keeping it at the length agents look for. Try to get that book published, and should it be successful (yes, I know that's a HUGE long shot, but trying to think optimistically), it could be easier to sell a publisher on a longer book.

Any thoughts, suggestions, etc. would be quite helpful.

Hmm...

The most pragmatic option I would think is likely (b) with a dash of (a). The way I see it, you need a manuscript that is an acceptable size (≤150k words, ideally well below the boundary I suspect for most agents), but you don't want to butcher your own work. Option (a) has a clear problem as stated, and option (c) is probably only worth doing if you can build up a significant amount of enthusiasm for a shorter standalone story—that is, doing (c) NOT only to get your 'real work' published. Basically, I think you have to be willing to countenance just the standalone(s) ultimately being published for option (c) to be viable. What I'm wondering is if there are plot threads / ideas in your manuscript that can be pulled out and deferred to 'elsewhere' in the trilogy, even if you feel it would be painful to do so, without completely destroying the core plotline. If you can restructure the whole story such that book 1 has less in it while still covering your main arc, then you may be able to spread the story you want to tell over, say 4 (5?) books, and hit lower word counts. But this assumes a lot about how your story is told and how 'multi-threaded' it might be.

I say all this knowing that that is a lot of work that you don't want to do, and maybe genuinely can't do for your story without excessive effort. But if you're serious about being published (and not say self-publishing, which is technically always a possiblity), then I think a degree of ruthlessness may be in order.

You can also defer for a month as you do your rewrite—it may be that some kind of plot restructuring will become more evident as you edit, something you just can't see right now.

Honestly after seeing that "zorro" sex scene extract the other week I feel like nobody should be experiencing imposter syndrome ever again when it comes to fiction writing, to be fair.

ANYWAY...

*adds thread to favourites*

I don't really write fiction per se but I DO now write adventure modules for D&D and other systems (one now a gold bestseller on the DMs Guild) ...which is, kind of approaching things from a very different angle. But i'm calling that close enough to be relevant for this thread

I have been known to write fiction. At the moment I’m working on my ever ballooning GOTY write up (some of which is fanfic) but I am going to get back to my science fiction book that finally has a plot and structure that makes sense. I just need to write the things. It’s pretty daunting but it can be split up into ‘case studies’ so I might focus on writing the first case.

pyxistyx wrote:

Honestly after seeing that "zorro" sex scene extract the other week I feel like nobody should be experiencing imposter syndrome ever again when it comes to fiction writing, to be fair.

ANYWAY...

*adds thread to favourites*

I don't really write fiction per se but I DO now write adventure modules for D&D and other systems (one now a gold bestseller on the DMs Guild) ...which is, kind of approaching things from a very different angle. But i'm calling that close enough to be relevant for this thread

The book I finished this year was based on a world I built for a homebrew D&D campaign (you're slightly familiar with the geography of said world, pyxistyx). I don't think there's a single type of storytelling that can't inform and inspire others.

Oh god, the Zorro piece.
I’d almost managed to scrub it from my memory. Almost.

And yes, I believe you absolutely belong here, Pyxi. Because that is some quality content that you deliver, without fail.

I finished writing a novel last year. It took me nine and a half years and came in at 138, 570 words (or 589 pages).

I'm not a writer but I love reading and always have done. Being a huge fan of the Ramones I wanted to adopt their attitude when they started out - making the kind of music they wanted to listen to and write the kind of book I'd want to read. I also wanted somebody to read it and think it wasn't the worst book they'd ever read so I had realistic if not overly ambitious expectations. I've given copies of it to a few people since its completion and a couple of them actually read it - both saying they really enjoyed it(!) - and having read it back myself it's definitely the kind of book I like to read. So with these simple goals in mind, as lowly as they were, they were all achieved so I'm counting it as a success.

I released it for free as an ebook and pretty much nobody knows about it but I know it's there, I know I enjoyed writing it and I know it's something I did. That's enough for me.

deadpet7 wrote:

I'm not a writer but...

Deadpet.... You wrote a novel of 138k words. You ARE a writer, doesn't matter if it's "officially" published or "just" self published. Because that's pretty freaking awesome!

My wife fell down a fanfiction reading and writing hole a few months ago from a Discord server and the fanfiction hosting site "Archive of our Own." It's been really cool to see her get fans and comments on her work and learn all these internet Fandom terms she wasn't familiar with. I enjoy reading her stuff, too. Great place to start for new writers.

Cool thread. Good luck everyone.

Any specific fandom, Mixolyde?

Very specific! A subset of Shadow and Bone that ships Alina and the Darkling and mostly hate Mal. "No Beta, we die like Mal!"

Mixolyde wrote:

My wife fell down a fanfiction reading and writing hole a few months ago from a Discord server and the fanfiction hosting site "Archive of our Own." It's been really cool to see her get fans and comments on her work and learn all these internet Fandom terms she wasn't familiar with. I enjoy reading her stuff, too. Great place to start for new writers.

It's so lovely that she's found her way to AO3. Ao3 has been a game changer in fanfiction, it's a wonderful place where queer, NB folks and women have been able to carve out spaces of their own. The site was launched in 2008 and has long been invite only (though it's loosened up a bit). In 2019, the site won a Hugo award in the category of Best Related Work.
I made the move there back in August 2019 after years on Fanfiction.net (which I'd joined in 2008 but has been on the decline for a while for a host of different, very problematic reasons), and it's been pretty freaking awesome. Sharing some things and having that space that isn't dominated by white cis het men is a HUGE thing.

Mixolyde wrote:

Very specific! A subset of Shadow and Bone that ships Alina and the Darkling and mostly hate Mal. "No Beta, we die like Mal!"

Let me finish the show and I'll go take a gander. Gotta remember my AO3 password.

Congratulations to you all! It’s great reading about your projects & accomplishments.

I’m in a nascent phase: I love writing, have loved writing since I was a kid, and as a teenager my dream was to become a science fiction & fantasy author. I have experimented with various ultra-short forms over the last few years (haiku, flash fiction, and the odd Lord Dunsany pastiche), although no luck so far with publication.

I have not completed a novel, though I’ve started a couple: in my teens/early twenties I made it about 30k words into a draft, and in the last couple of years I put together the “origin story” opening arc of another project, before realising the main part of the story was a mite ambitious.

I’ve been much more productive as a blogger, albeit with its own ups and downs.

Recent events have reminded me of how much writing has meant to me, so I’m trying to rebuild and stick to good writing habits so I can achieve my goals.

Your blog looks cool, Mind Elemental. I'll try to remember to poke around in there some more.

I've been trying to be more disciplined about writing the past few years. I did complete a first draft of a novel and then set it aside to try my hand at shorter pieces that I could more easily get feedback on. I tried out several of the online workshops and picked the one I felt I got the best feedback from. This was probably one of the best decisions I made. My writing has improved a ton from the critiques I've gotten. The first thing I posted got torn apart. Torn apart politely for the most part, but torn apart nonetheless. Since then, I've had two short pieces published, one online and one in print. Both received a lot of rejections before being accepted.

I am a semi-competent technical and business copy editor myself, although I could always use more practice. You get a reputation after correcting "e-mail" enough times at work. I haven't done much editing of fiction other than a little for grammar and typos. I'm sure that editing for style and content is a pretty deep skill that would be nice to have, but I don't have the time with my regular day job and family to practice it. I will say, though, for any writer that wants good copy editing advice, the best books you can buy are Lapsing into a Comma and The Elephants of Style by Bill "Hyphen" Walsh. They focus a little more on newspaper style, but Walsh points out where other styles may differ. He uses a lot of humor in his examples, which makes them pretty entertaining word-nerd books.

I'm a half-assed writer who really enjoys workshopping people's work. If anyone wants a second and very detailed, critical, constructive opinion on all the things, hit me up. Realistically short stories given the amount of time it takes, but I can do chapters of longer stuff too.

steinkrug wrote:

Your blog looks cool, Mind Elemental. I'll try to remember to poke around in there some more.

Thanks, steinkrug, and congratulations on your progress!

Can I ask - what do you write? (e.g. literary, genre) And, at what length are you currently writing?