Stay in the House
Returning to an old short story to unlock something in the novel
Turns out some of you are writers, too! If you write but haven’t yet commented, it’s not too late; I’m going to leave the last thread open for a while, so tell us where we can read your work!
This novel began as a short story, back in 2017. It was a set in a different house museum, with a different narrator, but it dealt with the same ideas: a stranger rolls in from out of town and upends the routine, the tour guide starts messing with the script, the objects in the house have their own histories, if anyone would listen.
The story wasn’t working — I couldn’t figure out the end — so I shelved it, and it was two more years before the idea for the novel took shape. For a while I actually forgot that it started as a story, but the metadata on my Scrivener files does not lie. (Yes, I keep extremely organized archives of abandoned projects. Virgo moon here.)
The week before last, I decided to workshop the story for the first time. I reasoned that maybe if I could figure out how to make this story work, it might unlock something in the novel, too. Just tracing the idea back to its origin might be useful, I thought.
Workshopping it didn’t magically crack the story, but I did get some interesting feedback that I think I can apply to the novel, too: the majority of the workshop group felt that the energy left the story when the characters left the house museum. People wanted the story to spend time in the house, not at the bar down the street or in the narrator’s living room.
I think this is good advice for the story, should I choose to finish it — stay in the house. But could I pull it off for a whole novel? Would I want to?
Either way, it may be an interesting formal constraint during this phase of re-drafting — e.g., for the rest of the year, I will only write scenes that take place in the house museum. Let’s see what comes up.
December will be a challenging one for my routine. We’re moving twice (long story), I’m traveling to Illinois twice, and the kiddo has a long winter break. When I know I’m going to have a month like this, I find it helpful to give myself very specific, easily attainable writing goals. To put myself in a box a little bit.
You may be looking at a wild season, too, and maybe, like me, you need to be reminded: good ideas often come from the loud times, even if they wait until it quiets down to find us.