Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.
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I write Mystery and Science fiction.
I used to say, I write short stories. And while I do indeed still write short stories, I also write novels.
We tend to identify ourselves by the most comfortable label, or by the one we’d like to fit, as well as by the one that seems to fit the best, based on what we have actually written. Or maybe just by what we wish we could write: “Yes, I write archaeological papers with a bit of whimsy,” or “Yes, I write about the cosmological implications of French cooking.”
So I have identified myself for decades as a mystery and/or science fiction writer. But even as my short story career – long and semi-illustrious as it was – began to wind down, I started writing real full length novels, whole stories over 65,000 words, some of them in the 85,000 word range..
I found that I liked it. It’s a whole other world. Worlds within worlds. Multiple characters, multiple settings, a story arc that can encompass several plot threads. It’s wonderful, and the discipline I learned as a short story writer helps me to keep it concise and not wander all over the page.
But there was a danger I had never thought about, a hidden pitfall to the novel-writing game that never occurred to me. The characters, so spare and driven in a short story, are under no obligation in a novel to do as the author says.
The characters, fully fleshed, do as they please. Whether you outline meticulously or are a seat-of-the-pantser, the characters have a way of driving the story, sometimes into a ditch or over a cliff. They become real enough to take on their own lives and are no longer a simple Mary Sue reflection of the writer, but become individuals who possess a weird amount of self-determination.
You might want them to murder or solve murders when they are busy developing relationships with other characters. You might plan for them to journey into space, when what they decide to do is stay home and build a fire in the fireplace. You might outline a tidy little puzzle, and they may turn it into a messy romance.
Yes, you are the all-powerful Author and can line your ducks back up into their neat little rows, but sometimes listening to your characters can help you take the story in a completely different direction, a better place, a more interesting and life-like place.
So before you proudly say, “I write such-and-such!” take a look at where your story is going. You might find that your characters have taken your sweet little cozy into noir territory, or burned up the spaceways with hot inter-species encounters.
I used to say I write Mystery and Science Fiction, but now I have to add Women’s Fiction and Romance to that description.
So what do you write? And has it changed from what you thought you would write?
PS – It’s all good as long as you keep on writing!