Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is Your Story Too Big or Just Right?

What's the difference between a "big story" and a "small story?"
Remember "Gone With the Wind?" Wouldn't you agree that it was a "big story?" The plot had several facets: war and peace; emancipation of the slaves; a time period of years; love and betrayal; jealousy and revenge; theft and deceit; embattled sisters; victory and defeat. 
Absolutely, GWTW is  BIG story.

During the Thanksgiving Holidays, my husband and I saw the new movie Lincoln. Just as I had been enthralled with GWTW, I was fascinated by the movie Lincoln. The two movies share some characteristics--the Civil War, of course, the emancipation of the slaves, and the surrender of the South to the North.

But Lincoln lacked a love story and sibling rivalry. And even though this, too, was a long movie, the time frame was only one year in the life of President Abraham Lincoln. Also missing was a large stage upon which to carry out the plot. For the most part, it took place in Washington, and much of that in the House of Representatives.

When an author begins a new story, she/he must establish whether it will be a big story or a small story, carried out over a long period of time and over a large section of the land, or..over a short period of time and basically in one place.
If this is not decided, the author can wander about in the wilderness of her imagination, wondering just where the focus of the story should be.

Case in point--my own WIP tentatively titled Texas Gold. The characters are only partially set, and I began the story in Houston in 1906--give or take a few years. My intention was to move the story to the Western part of the state, near the Panhandle. The plot is a nebulous plan at the moment, but early on I realized the problem of getting my characters across the state. And why begin it in Houston when most of it would take place in the West? Or would it? Maybe I could center the action in and around Houston and still tell my story.
The problem grew--big. During the ramblings in my head, the story became murky and messy.
But wait--I'm writing a romance novel--not an epic tale of war and peace. For this reason, I have decided my story will be more on the small side. Oh, it'll be a full-length novel, but the stage won't be so big, and the time frame will be short.
There. That's settled--somewhat.
It won't be a GWTW or a Lincoln, but it will be another Texas story.

 Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
My Website

My Blog

Sweethearts of the West-Blog

My Facebook Page 


  1. Celia-- one way to avoid wandering is to write an outline. I like outlines. They keep me focused and keep a fast-pace to the story.

  2. Great post. I try to outline too.

  3. Sounds like you have it figured out. And the good news about a plan is that it isn't set in stone. When the characters tell you what they think of your plan, you have to be willing to give in anyway.:)

  4. Celia,

    Mona hit on something I've contemplated--writing an outline. I think the outline could be either major events, or heading for each Chapter.

    I've always been a Pantster, but I can see where this would keep me more focused. Then I wouldn't hit that too familiar brick wall about half way through the story.

    I'm facing a current dilemma with a WIP almost written. My heroine's mother tells her something shocking. My devastated heroine packs and leaves home, (moving 6 hours farther south).

    In a romance, the hero/heroine should meet on the first couple of pages. Sooooo, somehow I must cut out parts of the argument between mother and daughter, leading up to the daughter's flight, to get said daughter to Macon, Ga. before too many page lapses. "Sigh."

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Dream big, Celia! This could be your Gone with the Wind!

    Bess McBride

  7. I agree with Maggie here, Celia. Your characters will tell you how long their story will be, in spite of what you may envision. And mine seem to gain momentum as they go along and often coome to the end faster than I think they will. Happy writing!

  8. I agree about letting the characters lead you, even if it means at times they'll take you down some blind alleyways and you have to haul them back. I tend to have a vague outline in my mind, but then things 'happen' and I realise the characters are telling me what they want, and not the other way round!

  9. That's great you decided what to focus on for your new story - it sounds great. I brainstorm first and write big scenes. I do a loose outline eventually but I'm flexible and like others said the characters take over. :)

    I haven't seen Lincoln but want to.

    Oh GONE WITH THE WIND brings back wonderful memories. I was bored one summer and read my sister's copy in 7th grade. I remember sitting on the front porch and reading some of it. The house was hot, no a/c.

  10. You ain't alone, sister. I got lost in a too big story myself--couldn't even hang on to a thread of the plot.
    I wouldn't advocate letting go of an epic story, but I would think such a huge project would be better doled out as a series. Allow secondary characters to have their time on stage to advance the main plot thread with their own book.
    A very interesting blog, Celia. I love discussions like this.

  11. Outlines work for me. But then I could never be a pantster. I have to have all the details worked out or the story won't flow.

    Of course, occasionally the characters take off to do their own thing, but I do tend to stick to the outline. It does keep the stories "small", but that's what I write.

  12. Mona--as organized as I usually am, you'd think I'd go by an outline. But I can't seem to work with that. I make a lot of notes in one particular place for a particular WIP, and that does help--especially when I forget what names I selected for some characters. Thanks.

  13. Lisa--seem as though more authors outline than I thought. Maybe I should make an effort.

  14. Maggie--that's the good thing about fiction and a WIP--nothing is definite until you decide it is. I'll get going on it, because it stays in my head all the time. Thanks!

  15. Laurean--I, too, am familiar with the brick wall.
    In writing romance and submitting, I have learned that a story should begin where the action is...I'm thinking you could skip the entire scene at the first about the argument, and begin with your heroine arriving in Macon--just figure out how she will meet the guy in the first two pages.
    But as she's driving in, you could begin that internal dialogue a little to give the reader a hint at what she's doing...then little by little, get the entire problem out.
    I'm so good at giving advice...if only I'd follow my own "wisdom!" Thanks for the comment!

  16. Bess--it's so good to see a comment from you. Oh, I always dream somewhat big--but not as big as GWTW. You know, today, no one would publish that book. That's what I've read, anyway.Thanks for commenting.

  17. Linda-- I agree with you. Most of the books or stories I've written have practically written themselves. It's a new thing for me to become bogged down so soon with a story. I do hope I get moving soon--I don't want this one to end up like the WWI WIP I had to archive for a long while.
    Thank you for commenting.

  18. Paula--I understand this. I do know sort of what this story will be about--the underlying problem. Now, it's a matter of getting the scenes down. Thanks!

  19. Diane--I didn't read GWTW, but I saw the movie early on, and couldn't believe some of the scenes in that story. Wow...I was so impressed.
    We watched parts of it on tv over the Thanksgiving holidays--it was a marathon--and we couldn't stop talking about the overacting--which seemed to be the norm in those decades.

  20. Sarah--you had the right idea to make a series instead of an epic story. I've never written anything that big, but I do have friends who have and wisely broke it up into a series.
    But secondary characters--many are family members, and as you probably know, I have a genealogy chart made up of The Camerons of Texas. The hero in this WIP--Lee King--was a little boy in my very first book--Texas Blue. His uncle was the hero in that book. Thank you for visiting.

  21. Allison,--yes, no matter how well you have everything laid out, your characters often will take you in another direction. And usually, a good direction. Thanks for coming by.

  22. I wonder what form some of the classics would take in today's publishing world and with writing tastes changed the way they are? Would GWTW have been written as a trilogy or series? Certainly Moby Dick would have had entire chapters slashed by the editor to fix the uneven pacing.

  23. Now this is very interesting to me, Celia. In my first foray into contemporary romantic suspense, SWEET DANGER, I had LOTS of characters. It scared the dickens out of me because I was worried that the love story would get lost in the hostage crisis and robbery. Plus it was all taking place within2 days' time (except for the epilogue.) But it worked, and I pulled it off. That book couldn't have been any shorter, but it ended where it should have. In TEMPTATION'S TOUCH, I felt the same way about the characters/plot, etc.--that it was "right"--but the book was much shorter than SWEET DANGER and took place over about the same time period. I had fewer characters in it than in SD, but I also didn't go into their backgrounds quite as deeply as I did with my H/h in SD. I do have a "GWTW" in my file drawer. LOL It is HUGE--the first thing I ever wrote and is just filled with characters, like a John Jakes saga or something. I want to go back and rework it, because I love the story, (it's definitely a "big one") but the thought of it petrifies me. I'd almost rather start from scratch. TEXAS GOLD sounds like another winner. No matter what, I'm sure that your characters will let you know what to do with them. You always get the length right.

  24. Gerald--I'm certain the classics of long ago would take very different forms. GWTW? I don't see it as a series or a trilogy, but I do know that any publisher today would demand major changes.
    Scarlett was a real scamp. Not likable at all. Tacky, selfish, out for herself no matter who she hurt, even her own sister. Today? No...we need to "like" our heroines. Margaret Mitchell might not get very far in this modern age.
    But GWTW is a classic in its own right--how can anyone say that anything's wrong with it?
    But like you, I'd love to see how some of those classics might be different if written today.
    Thanks for commenting--you gave me something else to think about.

  25. Cheryl--wow, I'd love to hear about that epic you have buried in your files. Who knows? You might very well have a blockbuster!
    I remember TT, and how the hostage situation did almost seem like a separate story. But you worked everything in seamlessly. As I recall, Kendi hid in the attic? And the brother found her? That's a great story. I know most woman might think...I would never take a stranger into my home late at night. But none of us really knows what we would do in a given situation--do we?
    Great comment, Cheryl..some day I'm going to have to give you a medal or something for coming up with such great comments. Thanks!