I’m supposed to be hard at work on a short story extension. I have a publisher interested in a novella-length version of it, but my heart’s just not in it.
I thought it was just ’cause I hadn’t written anything new in a while – maybe I was bored with it? So when a deadline for an anthology I’d been interested in but hadn’t had time for was unexpectedly extended, I jumped on the opportunity to write something new, and left my other story behind.
I’ve been writing the new one for about two weeks. It’s flowing nicely, and I am closing in on the finish line. Just yesterday, I finally figured out why my other project is stuck in the mud.
It’s a gimmick.
You see, the story’s central idea is the comparison of transgender students’ lives now in high school, and gay characters back in my own high school days. The original short story worked well enough, hopping back and forth between memories and POV’s. When I split the stories apart, I realized I’d been telling my own story a whole lot more than the trans kid’s.
The back and forth structure also seemed untenable for a longer piece, and yet, they needed to work together. It made no sense to tell half the story in 1986, and then switch to present day for the other half. I’d lose the connection.
Then I had one of those lightbulb over the head moments that seemed to make sense at the time. I’d make it into a Freaky Friday sort of tale – lightning bolt, switch places, experience high school in the other person’s body. It seemed brilliant at the time, and it was going to be so cool.
Until it wasn’t.
As I was writing it, the whole thing seemed to bog down. The energy of the original piece was gone, and I was spending all of my time explaining how things were different for each of my characters, and practically no time letting them experience being themselves.
Looking back on it now, I realize it became all about the gimmick – hey, what’s that in my pants? – and not about what was in the hearts of the characters. My writer’s heart knew this all along, but it took a little time and distance for the realization to percolate up to my writer brain.
Now that I have figured it out, I am actually excited to get back to the story. I can feel its energy percolating in my subconscious. Instead of pushing myself to write something that really wasn’t working, I am brimming with ideas for a story that will be centered around my transgender teen, and will stay true to its core character.
Have you ever needed a little distance to figure out why a story wasn’t working? And what did you discover?