Reworking old stories
I’ve finished restructuring that old novelette I mentioned last week. I think I’ve improved it significantly in a number of ways, and I wish I’d done this two submissions ago. As it is, there’s only one decently-paying market currently available that I could submit a story of this length and type to (it’s about 2000 words shorter than before, but still well above 10K), and it isn’t open for submissions for another three weeks. Well, failing that, I’ll keep an eye out for other opportunities.
Just now, I’ve been working on a revamp of another old idea. I’ve started to realize that I could maybe sell more stuff if I try tailoring my work to the available markets. And urban fantasy and steampunk are popular these days. I’m not really a fantasy guy, but I have one idea I’ve played with over the years that, with a little revamping and shift of emphasis, could fit those genres and still offer something original. It started out with me wondering about why conventional fantasy worlds always seemed to be set in medieval times. Sure, it’s because magic and technology perform similar story functions. But I kept wondering, what would one of these worlds be like a thousand years later when industrialization begins, or when they get into space? How would magic and high technology coexist?
What I originally came up with was pretty elementary — industrializing humans throwing off the yoke of the magic-users, the magic-users launching a war to retain their power, the nature-loving, unicorn-riding elves joining the war because the industrialists were despoiling the environment, pretty much a mass of familiar tropes just put together in a slightly different way. There were some more original elements to the worldbuilding, and a “logical fantasy” approach a la Larry Niven or Diane Duane where magic followed physical rules and limits, but on the surface it was still pretty basic. I’ve since learned enough about the fantasy field to know that I need something less derivative if I want to stand out.
So I’ve been rethinking the concept from the ground up, getting rid of the cliches and the predictable stuff. No more elves, unicorns, and dragons — the sentient creatures that humanity shares this world with are at once more original and more familiar. And instead of a simple tech-vs.-magic formula, it’s more of a logical coexistence between the two. After all, if magic had always been a part of your existence, wouldn’t you develop technology in synch with it, to enhance it in some ways and rely on it in others, rather than as a totally separate thing in opposition? (Consider the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender, where they used firebenders to power steampunk technology. That was an influence on my thinking.)
But now comes the hard part. I have the world — now I need characters and stories. The one story I wrote in the original version of this universe won’t work with the new version, especially if I’m trying for an urban-fantasy flavor (and it didn’t really work anyway, of course, or I’d have sold it). The tricky thing, though, is that it’s hard to write a short story in a whole elaborate new world. My tendency is to do something expansive that reveals a lot about the world and its workings, which tends to run pretty long. Or else I pack a huge amount of worldbuilding into a short story and it’s too cluttered. (That was actually the case with that story I just mentioned. I submitted it to a contest, and the note I got back from one of the judges was “Interesting worldbuilding, but it needs a novel for its scope.”)
Of course, I could develop a novel, but right now my priority is to write and sell more short fiction, build up more of a reputation for original fiction in the hopes that it will help me get an agent. Then I can focus on novels.