The First Thirty Thousand Words

Boardwalk, Yellowstone National Park. Copyright 2018 Jonny Eberle.

At my core, I’m a short story writer, a factor that has been both a blessing and a curse as I set out to write a full-length novel. At the 30,000-word mark, just over one-quarter of the way to my goal, it hit me that I was attempting something new. Up until this point, I could’ve taken what I’d written so far and turned it into a very long piece of short fiction; one of those short stories without an ending that thinks its clever for leaving the reader hanging for resolution. But moving past 30,000 words in my manuscript, that easy off ramp is disappearing in the rear view mirror.

A novel is not a short story that didn’t know when to quit. Short stories, well told, are like diamonds — small, multifaceted, and complex, but contained. They’re defined by the surprising depth and tension that comes from expertly working within the constraints of the form to make each and every word matter.

A novel is not like that. I don’t even have a metaphor to describe it, because I’m still discovering the differences. I’ve noticed that my writing style has started to change as my word count grows. I’m thinking more about the big picture and how scenes need to echo forward and back through the narrative. Three plot points aren’t enough to sustain the whole thing from beginning to end. Instead, I’ve felt the need to add three or more complications to each scene to maintain forward momentum.

There is no going back. I have to see this through and continue to see how the form forces my hand, as well as where I can push back to subvert it in small ways. I guess the best metaphor at this point of naïveté is a whirlpool. The farther in I venture, the more I am pulled in. It is a terrifying thing to see the scale of an unfolding novel reveal itself in bits and pieces, but it also gives me hope that I can charge ahead into the next scene and the next chapter until I at last reach the end.

Thirty thousand words down; 65,000 or so to go. Wish me luck.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. When not obsessing over his novel manuscript, he can be found on the Twitterverse. Watch his new short film, As Seen On TV, on YouTube or Facebook.

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