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Writing Level-Up: The Fire Opal

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Jun 29th, 2010
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Over the weekend I finished the first draft of a new short story called The Fire Opal. In the beginning of my novel, Jack of Hearts, Jack meets a family in the Desert of Night Walking that has been robbed of their only horse by the charlatan wizard he’s hunting. Jack gives the family a rough opal to compensate them and vanishes after the wizard. The Fire Opal tells what happens to that family.

I really, really wanted it to be 5000 words, and I had the general story arc mapped out ahead of time–but half-way through the writing process it took an abrupt turn. I should say *I* took an abrupt turn, because I don’t subscribe to the idea that I’m just along for the ride, following the story wherever it wants to go–I’m the AUTHOR dammit, the characters and plot obey me (under threat of deletion!)–but I can sympathize with that view. That’s what it feels like at times, anyway.

The disruption occurred at what I thought was the end of a sentence that went:  Kali grabbed his wrist and clawed the opal out of his hand, which turned out to only be half a sentence that spontaneously grew the following: except when she opened her fist she saw it wasn’t the opal.

Since you haven’t read the story, the significance of that sentence and it’s uninvited appendage are probably lost on you. But trust me, it was supposed to be the opal. It was a lark, a stray thought, and after I typed it, I laughed. Yeah, that would be cool and crazy. Okay, let’s just delete that and get on with the story. But I paused, because maybe it wasn’t just a stray thought. Maybe it was a subconscious signal–maybe it’s what I really wanted to happen as a reader, because it would be crazy, and more dramatic, and interesting. The worker in me balked momentarily because it meant more effort, more thinking through the ripples it would have on the storyline. You know what? Put some duct tape on that dude’s mouth because he never has the best interests of the reader in mind, or your goals as a writer.

So I let the sentence stand, thought about everything I’d have to change, then plunged ahead. I took a left turn when the map said go right. And that, as Mr. Frost once said, has made all the difference. I think, anyway. I could be wrong–maybe I should have stuck to the plan, but I believe I ended up with something more emotionally compelling (to me anyway). The story came in at 6300 words instead. It’s a first draft, so I can probably  chop some more fat after I let the story simmer a while.

If you’re a planner, I’m certainly not advocating dumping planning, or just following any stray thought, but I do recommend staying open to new possibilities that present themselves along the way. It’s along the way that you know a lot more than you did at the beginning of the journey.

On a different tack–anyone else know of any cool novels that spawned short stories set in the same universe? I think it’s fun to find out what happens to an interesting side-character or explore a locale only touched on by the main novel.

About Me

Ricardo Bare
Austin, Tx

Ricardo Bare is a writer and game designer living near Austin, Texas. Currently he works as a game designer for Arkane Studios, which in 2012 released Dishonored. Ricardo started his career in the games industry working on the Deus Ex series, winner of the BAFTA and numerous other Game of the Year awards.

Ricardo is the author of Jack of Hearts and Fool of Fate, the first two books in a young adult fantasy series.


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