Artwork by Robert Chew, a.k.a CrazyAsian1. Used with permission.
Today, I would like to share one of my absolute favorite writing techniques for getting a novel off the ground: the Prototype Story. Before I sit down to write a novel, I almost always write a Prototype Story, and sometimes write several.
So what is a Prototype Story? For starters, it’s a short story with a specific goal in mind. It’s a test of sorts, an exercise to see if certain elements from the to-be-written novel actually work on paper. The Prototype Story could focus on a specific character I’m having trouble with, a part of the world that’s challenging to realize, a location that’s just not clear yet, or really anything about the novel. Anything at all.
The trick is to take the element giving me problems and put it under a magnifying glass. The Prototype Story is the magnifying glass. These stories help me identify problems and fix them in a contained environment. So when I transition to the novel, I already know that aspect will work. Or, at least, has the capacity to work.
Let’s take a look at an example. Humanity Machine is the novel I’m currently working on, and it is by far the most ambitious novel I have ever written. It has some really crazy stuff in it that’s testing my skills as a writer. I’ve gone through seven outlines before settling on a final draft outline.
In short, this novel is a beast. So, instead of diving straight into the novel itself, I tested parts of it in a short story. Enter “Humanity Machine – Athens Assault,” a short story set in the fiction of Humanity Machine. By writing this story, I was able to test out some of the more bizarre elements of the world. This really helped me get a feel for them. For someone who primarily writes science fiction, this is a great way to test out the dynamics of a new “rule set” if you will.
And while “Humanity Machine – Athens Assault” is a fun action short (at least I think so), it didn’t have to be any good at all. My only goal was to get comfortable with the world I would portray in the novel. Humanity Machine has so many unusual tech elements that I wanted to see how they meshed together. If the story completed sucked, but I got a feel for this strange high tech world, then mission accomplished!
There are plenty of other applications. For example, I may focus on a secondary character that’s giving me problems. In order to get a feel for the character, I’ll often pick an event from their past and write a short story about that event from their perspective. The story doesn’t have to be good, but I guarantee it will help me realize the character’s voice when it comes to writing the novel.
In summary, the Prototype Story is my go-to tool when I’m having problems with a novel. There’s almost no literary problem it can’t solve.
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