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“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
– Toni Morrison.
I’ve always loved that quote. It’s so typical of Toni Morrison; so simple, and yet it captures the process perfectly. Every time I read it, it reminds me of why I wanted to write in the first place.
I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about the first story I wrote. It was a thriller called School Terror and I was fourteen when I wrote it. Actually, it wasn’t quite my first story; I’d written a few other things when I was younger, including my very first story when I was seven. But School Terror was the first time I really tried to write something original, and I was quite proud of it.
Basically the story was about a prestigious school which was overrun by terrorists trying to take the students hostage; a girl, Mara, and her teacher escape and take on the terrorists one by one. If you think of 24 mixed with teenage angst, you’ll probably get an idea of what it was supposed to be like. The story was probably fuelled by my frustrations about school at the time but I thought it was kind of a cool idea just the same. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about a sassy sixteen year old and her curmudgeonly history teacher, taking on a band of vicious terrorists?
To be honest, looking back, it was pretty bad. My spelling and grammar were atrocious and it was 1998; I was fourteen – I knew nothing about writing, let alone terrorism! But I’m still quite fond of that story. I think writing it was the moment I knew I really wanted to be a writer. It was the first time I’d tried to tell my own story, something original and uniquely my own, and it was the kind of story I’d want to read myself. Even now, twelve years later, that’s still why I write: to tell stories I’d want to read. I think if you ever start writing for any other reason, it’s time to put down your pen.
I haven’t posted an update on my writing in a while but it’s been going well over the last couple of months. I’ve got a lot further with my novel; most of the storyline is plotted now and I’m starting to flesh out the back-story before I start on a first draft. In the meantime I’m writing a couple of short stories which should be finished in the next month or so (but don’t hold me to it!). One of them is a modern fable about beauty and ageing, a slightly different take on an old theme.
I’m also starting a new project tomorrow which I’m very excited about. I’m announcing it now but it’s actually been something of an open secret for the last few weeks, so you might already know about it if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
So what is the project? Basically I want to try something a little different. From tomorrow I’m going to be publishing a micronovel via Twitter and Facebook. It’s called Sleepless, a story I’ve been developing for a couple of years now and it’s really an experiment as much as a novel.
The idea is that I want to try to write a story specifically for social media like Twitter and Facebook. A lot of writers have published works on Twitter and Facebook before so the idea is nothing new, but personally I think they’ve been going about it the wrong way. Twitter and Facebook are excellent tools for writers but they weren’t meant to be used like that; publishing a short story – let alone a full novel – takes thousands of updates. It’s just not practical and it becomes confusing and hard to follow.
The idea of building a community is also something that is essential to social media but many writers seem to misuse it. They don’t engage their community; they have a one-way dialogue with their readers, rather than an ongoing conversation. But the feedback and interaction that a social community provides is one of its biggest strengths and I think that should be embraced.
What I’m getting at is that I think social media should be treated as a new format entirely, with different rules. Writers shouldn’t be treating Twitter and Facebook as another publishing platform; rather they should be writing stories for Twitter and Facebook and posting them live, so readers can follow and share in the experience of creating a work.
Likewise the way writers approach stories should be different. Many people access Twitter and Facebook on their phones and they’re only online for a few minutes at a time. Expecting them to sit and read through large chunks of text is unrealistic. Instead I think writers need to find a new way of telling stories for that format by condensing their work.
That’s what I want to do with the micronovel. The idea of a micronovel is to tell the same story as an ordinary novel but in a condensed fashion. It doesn’t mean turning a novel into a short story or losing the structure of a novel. Rather it’s an exercise in brevity, where you find new ways to tell the story and explore the characters in fewer words. The finished product is about the length of a novella but in the end should still feel like you’ve read a whole novel.
Micronovels are something that more and more writers are experimenting with, particularly as Twitter and internet-capable phones have grown in popularity. They’re designed to be easy to read on mobiles and in many ways they’re inspired by Japanese mobile novels (keitai shousetsu), which are incredibly popular in Japan. Some people think it’s the future of storytelling, particularly for a generation used to so many distractions.
Personally I see micronovels and microfiction as more of an interesting experiment, something which could help to push the boundaries of fiction, particularly online. Certain kinds of stories could suit the format well, particularly minimalist fiction and stream of consciousness, and that’s kind of what I want to do with Sleepless.
I’ve talked about the story itself a little before. It’s about Jake Morgan, a man who wakes from a coma after almost twelve years. But the world he finds himself in is very different, a post-9/11 world, and his wife Rachel has remarried – and he has a son. As he begins to adapt to his new environment, Jake begins to form a relationship with his son. But he keeps wondering if he’s still the same man he was before.
At its heart the story is about the relationship between Jake and his son but it’s also a sad love story as Jake remembers his relationship with Rachel in flashbacks. It’s also a way of looking at how much the world has changed in the last ten years by seeing it through Jake’s eyes.
I’d always planned to write Sleepless as a short novel and I still do, but I think this is a good way of telling a version of the story now while it’s still fresh in my mind. The story should lend itself quite well to the format, particularly as a lot of it is told in flashbacks.
I’ll be starting it tomorrow and I’ll try to update it when I have a free moment; when I’m out on my phone or at home, etc. I imagine some errors will get through and it’ll probably go in new directions I hadn’t planned (as all stories do), but it should feel very organic and I think it’s a great opportunity for readers to see how a story evolves as its written.
If you’d like to read the story you can follow it on Facebook and on Twitter. I’ll also post it on my blog once it’s finished. What I’d like is to build up a small community as that interaction is part of the experiment as well, to see how it helps to shape the novel. So I hope you can follow along. And if you know anyone else who might be interested, it’d be great if you could let them know as well.
But to be honest, it’s an experiment and I have no idea how it’s going to go. If it works then it could be great… or it could just all fall apart! Either way it should be interesting. And I think that’s kind of the attraction for me as well, the idea of trying something new and different… it’s exciting.
It reminds me again of Toni Morrison’s quote and when I was writing my first story. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I had a story I wanted to tell, and so I found my way. It was exciting; it made me want to write every spare moment I had, and that’s how I feel about this story too.
As a writer that’s what it’s all about for me… that feeling is the reason I write. So I think that’s a good sign. Anything else that comes from it is just a bonus.
I’ll be starting Sleepless tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it. Wish me luck. 😉