Today I have a guest post from Felipe Adan Lerma. Felipe is a writer and artist with his finger on the pulse of current changes in publishing, and who is making the most of those changes, as this post shows…
Short Chapters, My Growing Preference
It is a distinct pleasure to stray off the beaten-to-a-pulp path of parsing how and why both Hachette and Amazon are more alike than different, and write about something I almost neglected and lost sight of in the digital dust: my growing preference and pleasure with small chapters.
Whether I’m reading shorter chapters or writing them, I’m finding more and more I really enjoy how they encapsulate micro moments in a story’s thread. Like scenes in TV show or movie I really enjoy, like The Middle or instance.
What’s surprising to me is, I should’ve know all along!
Like that old saying, that the truth is often right in front of us.
Or that the path is within.
Follow your heart.
You see, I grew up being told, and believing, that all good things take work. Lots of it. Effort, even more of it. So, from the beginning, in terms of writing, I struggled to fulfill that expectation. I sure wasn’t wanting to shirk from the full needed effort to succeed.
Plays had to be three acts. Novels had to be hundreds of pages. Short stories and novellas were for wimps. I may be short, at five foot six, but I wasn’t about to be short in terms of effort, or production.
Yet, life kept trying to remind me that my preference was for quicker, tighter, shorter work.
Specifically, my mind body-connection kept showing me, by example.
How to follow my heart, almost literally.
Played based ball for years, always trying to hit the long ball. Almost got one over the fence, once. But if I concentrated, I could bunt or bloop fly myself on base almost at will.
When I was in junior high, I went out for track. Loved to run. Trained for 440s and longer. In my 20s and 30s I ran three miles almost every day. But what I loved doing, was sprints. Embarrassing though, dashing for a short distance, for fun. Couldn’t I go further?
In college (80s), after my Air Force stint, using my VA benefits, I took every type writing course I could. My first creating plays. Three acts please. But my act bits were the best. Short stories? Meh. Nobody reads those. Novella. Lengthen it, tell us more, I was told. I did, but it wasn’t as good. The fire was gone.
Then in the 90s, my wife and I sold my art at art shows and malls and, to pass the time, I wrote short one page poems. Something we could print on one page, personalize it, and sell – especially on holidays. We did that for a decade as I dreamed of writing something bigger.
I painted. Eight by tens to forty by sixties. People wanted sofa size art.
But I loved my smaller pieces. Bits of my heart.
And now. In this digital age, I find I can do anything. Nobody much cares either way anymore, telling me, “No, don’t do that – do this!” But I had been trained well. So I “sneaked in” bits and scenes into my novellas and the few “novels” I’ve done. Made sure I created smooth enough transitions to justify a continuity of those scenes and bits. Started doing short stories as “fillers” and “back stories” to the larger work. There had to be a good reason for doing them, after all. (smiles)
But in this latter time, this new digital time, I came upon writers like Joe Konrath, James Patterson, Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich. I liked the way they switched point of views, switched locales, created incidents and episodes of action. Like the shorter quicker pulses of narrative.
So, recently, with my latest short story, “Lunch with Grandma and Grandpa,” I created what I consider short story short chapters. You know, segments divided with an “*”. Some are a few pages long, some a few paragraphs long. Point of views change. Yet it all merged and worked. It was extremely satisfying. It was a pleasure. It was fun.
With that, I was ready.
Or think I am.
Currently, weighing in at just under 20,000 words, and about two thirds finished with the first draft, is my first mystery thriller effort, tentatively titled, “Day Trip, the Hill Country.”
My first crime mystery effort, a short, was “Dirty Sixth Street, Austin,” and I bring most of the same characters back for this work. While the short does have scene bits embedded into it, with some pretty nice transitions, it was still my basic straight forward narrative.
This newer novella size story, is looking to have seventy plus chapters. Averaging less than two pages a chapter. There are a few three pages, many two pages, and lots of one page chapters.
I still feel guilty. Try to expand a chapter here and there. Recognizing where more development feels right. But more often, fighting to keep the impact I feel and get when I both write then read the work.
A favorite literature professor of mine at the University of Houston Clear Lake, way back then, in the late 70s and early 80s, once told me, “Some writers take decades to forget what they learn getting their masters. And spend a lifetime learning what they like.”
That’s me. It was in front of me all the time.
Felipe Adan Lerma