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Character short stories & character profiles

05 Apr

My last post I mentioned an experiment involving character short stories as a means to better understand the characters. While the characters I selected had far too interesting lives to make just one story, I have come to discover that this idea isn’t limited to myself alone.

About two months after I had the idea to make these short stories, I heard on an episode of writing excuses, I believe it was Brandon Sanderson,  that did this often. Wrote short stories of the main character’s life to better understand the character. If I recall correctly, he said that many times these stories were never even published.

So… while my experiment didn’t lead anywhere for me at this time, I did find positive results from a well established author. What my experiment did find was the expanse of the universe I had in my mind. The back story of my main character worked very well as a world building story in a section of the universe I am creating entirely separate from where I had intended in the novel i was working on.

The area where the back story was set will be referred to in many occasions in the original novel, and in doing so I saw the benefit of increasing the understanding of the universe as a whole. So I came to another decision… how to fit these new stories into the series that I had originally intended. I couldn’t do it.

I considered using the back story I was developing in my mind as flashbacks throughout the series, but they would have been too numerous and would have detracted from the flow of the original story. So then I considered a stand alone novel for each character’s backstory, and then it hit me. Make every book a stand alone novel in the wider universe.

This idea wasn’t my own, I was reading Fledgling for the first time in many many years and since I enjoyed it as a much older person and the author’s writing was excellent, I decided to look them up. I also noticed on my copy an mention of book X in the Liaden Universe. That set my curiosity going and I needed to learn what they meant by ‘Universe’. I imagined it was the collection the book was in, by was this a series, or series of series? In fact it was something else entirely.

What it was, was something that would lead to my understand my own ideas better. The Liaden Universe is a collection of books. Some stand alone, some series, all connected in some way, obscure or obvious, and all in one “universe” of the author’s making. This realization that I was “allowed” to do such a thing, that many “rules” in writing are not set in stone and the only barrier to changing any set rule is success. If it works…use it.

For Lee and Miller, it works very well. Once the allowance was made in my mind, the barriers I had set in my own imagination fell away, resulting in so many ideas for novels that it has taken me months to get them all down and in a semblance of order.

Now that I have that all out of my conscious mind I can focus once again on the characters that began the wonderful quest of mine. While the original idea that started this whole thing is going to be put on the back burner for awhile, the backstory turned stand alone novel, set in my Mongers Universe, has become the focus of my time. Even the other backstory I was planning to make a short story out of originally is on the back burner and as of now is still only in the idea stage.

So in closing, don’t be afraid to experiment, or let the story lead you to the place it needs to go. Also beware of the walls you put on your imagination.

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