Sunday, May 13, 2012

Having My Own Work Edited, Part 2 of 4

"The Fourth Wish" is a short story that's part of a connected series of stories. It's the second one to get accepted for publication and the fourth one to be written. Now that a second one has been accepted, I believe enough in the idea's commercial potential to commit to writing the rest of them and trying to sell them as a novel-in-stories. However, I don't think I'll try to sell any of the other stories as self-contained pieces of fiction, and this post is about my reasoning.

These stories are about the world's last wish-granting genie and his human master, Candace. In this world a bond between genie and master is for life and the master gets one wish every ten years. Candace has her first wish at age six (that story is already published). "The Fourth Wish" is set 30 years later.

You see the problem. While the first story requires no background because the characters are new, "The Fourth Wish" carries ideas into it from the previous ones. Candace's prior wishes matter, because one of them has a substantial effect on her current life. Yet nothing would have killed this story faster than a flashback explaining the previous stories. So what could I do?

My answer was to pretend, to the greatest extent possible, that there are no other stories. When I couldn't avoid some bit of background, I presented it in a way that develops a central character. 

Specifically, the genie hates being enslaved to a human, and the rules say he can be free of her if she wishes for something greedy enough—some kind of wish that would ruin her life if granted. In this internal monologue, we see how her refusal to abuse his power drives him crazy:

She’d wasted her first wish on ice cream. Her second was for help deciding what college to go to. Her third was for “enough” money. What kind of human wished for “enough” money? When was she going to get stupid like the rest of her kind? If he had to be chained to her for another fifty or sixty years…

In my view, the keys to this monologue are (1) it's in character for the genie to complain to himself, (2) it's short, and most importantly, (3) it appears at a point in the story where readers ought to be wondering what Candace's prior wishes were. So I'm not boring the readers with information I want them to know, I'm telling them information that (I hope) they want to know. 

Still, I don't go on for long paragraphs, and I do not employ a flashback. I say it in as few words as I can, then get on with the story.

Finally, to make "The Fourth Wish" stand alone, I eliminated some critical facts about my fictional world and changed another. The change relates to the creatures called "imps." For Cliffhanger Books, I made the imps male instead of saying they're magical creatures that don't have, or require, gender. And I don't discuss why the genie calls himself the last wish-granting genie. Were there others? What happened to them? And why does the last genie live on a desolate plain with only three annoying imps for company? The novel-in-stories answers all of these questions. The stand-alone story treats them as facts, not questions: He's the last, he lives on a flat plain, and three imps live there too. And to make it possible to ignore those questions, I changed their answers. The "real" answers have implications that can't be ignored.

That's why I don't think I'll try to sell more of these stories by themselves. I have to abandon too much material to make them work independently.

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