For the weekly short story contest over on Goodreads last week I wrote a story about Mercy Lyons called "The London Kiss." In this story I establish that it's a military tradition with the Royal Space Navy for crew to be drawn at random to go "ashore" first and kiss their sweetheart after a tour of duty. (Because I'm also thinking about having it published it's not posted here, yet.) It's a fun story that shows some character background, allows me to engage in some world building, and see what happens.
But a friend read it for me and then immediately lamented "But I want to read chapter 2! I like the vignettes, and the back story, but when do we see more of the novel? Do you know how hard it is to sleep at night not knowing what happens now that the ship is all but adrift in space with only a handful of officers remaining and no active guns? I wasn't this sleep deprived since I babysat my sisters quintuplets who were all at the age of 2 months."
Okay, so I kind of paraphrased a little there.
I have to admit that finding the time to sit down and actually write chapter 2 has been a bit of a challenge. We're into the last few months of school and things are really ramping up as we try to cram in content, finish off grades, wrap up a year's worth of research (we are always researching better ways to teach and then measuring how we're doing against previous years) and all other manner of pre-June wackiness.
Part of that too is my own sense of procrastination. I know that in the second week of June I'm going to be sitting down and writing full time all day. I'll have my word count goals, my revision goals, and my short story plans. It just feels, now, like it'll be overall easier to get rolling on additional novel writing when I've got this wide open space ahead of me.
Then there's the immediacy of the weekly short story contest. It's a new topic every week so I can't put off writing it. I can opt out of a week (I've only submitted 3 stories in the last 3 months), but if I have a story to tell I can't just keep pushing it back to deal with "other stuff". It's a bit like having that writing deadline hanging over me that I'm planning to mount this summer. Plus with the added "here's your topic" it's almost easier to get going because rather than asking "what happens next?" or "how close am I to the next bullet point on the outline?" I can just down and tell a story.
All that is good but really I think one of the biggest things is that I'm still world building. If I had decided to make this a Star Trek Novel, where I wrote it and then tried to sell it to Paramount as a tie in, I'd have all of my world built for me. I wouldn't have to explain the command structure, or the ships, or the weapons, or FTL technology. But I'm trail blazing so not only do I need to explain these things to the reader, I also have to be able to explain them to myself. I have to be sure that things work together, that protocols make sense, that the history flows in a logical way.
For example, in "The London Kiss" I established (for now) that the Hartishians speak French. I spent a lot of time on this, going between gibberish languages, other dialects, etc. I was asking myself constantly for days "why? Why do they do that?" Finally I think I have answers (which I'll probably blog about later this week). These are all questions that I'd have to answer when I write the novel anyway. I can't not know why or how these things evolved even if I don't explain them directly to the reader. I just need to know that it works so I can craft a believable world.
In some ways these short stories are becoming my character bios and sketches, my plot outlines and my world notes. The next step is to start to package them and get them "out there" to generate some buzz. Here too is where I show my ignorance of "how it's done". Will a potential publisher/ agent love that I've worked to build a following or will they see these "nearly free" short story samples as an undermining of my work?
At any rate there is at least one more story about Mercy that I want to tell before I get back to working on her epic rise to command. The topic was "The Next Best Thing" and I've got some pretty fun thoughts about how the only Allusian in the navy might find herself in a position to have to settle for the "next best thing" when surrounded by hundreds of Midshipmen who don't see her as a classmate but rather as "one of the enemy".