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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.


  • Anthony Huso

    Yeah, I can think of a novel with a short story tie in.

    But seriously, taking the left turn is a great thing to do in writing. And I agree that you only find those turns once you’ve gone a fair distance down the path.

  • Bane

    I vacillate between planning and not, and usually go with the latter because when I go with the former, those stray thoughts end up working their way in there like viral ivy.

    As far as short spin-offs… I’ve done that on one and used the general principle on another. Makes it a little easier to develop since the world’s already there, and usually provides some reconnect to the original story (which had undoubtedly become the bane of my existence from all the revision and overthinking).

  • Ricardo Bare

    Anthony: Hmmm…I do seem to recall a some such tale. Maybe the the public will get to see it in all it’s glory? :)

    Bane: Yeah, the world already being there shaves off some of the effort. The trick then is to avoid forgetting to explain the parts of the world you need for the short, and also avoid dumping too much.

  • Adam Heine

    I’m totally a planner, or at least I’m supposed to be, but these characters keep popping out of nowhere. And some of them are really funny!

    I know a short story tied to a novel-that-isn’t-yet. I also read a short story by Tobias Buckell set in the world of his trilogy (don’t know the name of the trilogy, but the books are Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose).

  • Ricardo Bare

    Adam–are you referring to this? I had to pop over to Ceaseless Skies and read it. Fun!

    Never read Buckell, though the name sounds familiar.

  • Adam Heine

    That’s exactly what I’m referring to :-)

    You can read Buckell’s short story at Clarkesworld, here. And he has large excerpts of those novels I mentioned at his website.

  • Dan Tannenbaum


    Bradley’s Darkover novels and McCaffrey’s Pern novels have both spawned several anthologies of short stories written by others.

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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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