Saturday, April 12, 2008

Author Debbie Mumford

Please welcome a wonderful author and great friend of mine, Debbie Mumford. We were in the Dreams and Desires anthology together last year and her style of fantasy romance is reading escapism at its best! Take it away, Debbie…

I have an anthology coming out in the near future (Star Stepping) and it has me thinking about the difference in my style when I write short fiction as opposed to novels. You’d think it would be the same, wouldn’t you? I mean, both mediums tell a story, both have a beginning, middle and end, and both require plot and character arc. But there are some rather important differences.

When I’m writing novel-length fiction, I tend to write romance—fantasy or paranormal romance, but romance nonetheless. However, my short fiction veers more to straight fantasy or science fiction. This puzzled me for a while, but I’ve come to the conclusion that true romance, the story of a budding, intimate relationship, requires more space to breathe and grow than a typical short story can provide. Consequently, my short fiction tends to be more plot centered (what would result if such and such happened?), while my longer works are more character-driven (what happens if this personality type is thrown into such and such a situation and exposed to a hunk with these characteristics?).

And so I arrive at the writer’s version of the chicken-and-the-egg dilemma: which comes first, choice of medium (short story vs. novel), or choice of plot (episodic vs. character-driven)?

Now, this isn’t to suggest these are questions I actually ask and answer. On the contrary, they’re more of an after-the-fact analysis. And it’s not that the dichotomy always holds true. I’ve written (and published) flash fiction romances, but a romance in under a 1,000 words is more of a promise of things to come than a true “happily ever after.”

One of my most successful stories has been Sorcha’s Heart. Sorcha began as a short story written with the Writers of the Future contest in mind—a simple 5,000 word fantasy about a girl, a dragon, and an impossible love. By the time it was published, Sorcha’s Heart had grown into a 21,000 word novella and a fully realized romance. But it didn’t end there. I was offered a contract to write two additional novels to further the exploration of Sorcha’s world. Dragons’ Choice, the first of those novels, was released last November, and I’m currently writing the second, Dragons’ Flight.

Who would’ve guessed that 5,000 word story would generate such interest? Certainly not the writer! It never occurred to me when I wrote the original story that I was laying the foundation for so many works.

Sometimes, the story is more than the writer anticipated.

So my question to any writers who drop by is this: which comes first, the story problem or the character who will live it? And its corollary: when do you decide what length work you’re writing?

If any of the other writers featured in Star Stepping are out there, I’d love to hear about the genesis of your stories!

~~~Debbie Mumford
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P. Robinson said...

For me short notes and observations came first. After that was poetry, short stories and then novellas. I know this isn't how it works for everyone but it makes sense to me. I plan on writing my first full-length novel this summer. Great post Debbie!

Kissa Starling

Debbie Mumford said...

Thanks, Kissa, nd good luck with that novel!

My progression was exactly the opposite of yours...I wrote a 100,000 word novel, and then realized I needed to learn my craft *lol*

Gemma Halliday said...

Thanks for coming to play with us, Debbie!

I went from short to long. I started out writing short stories in college, then progressed to 60k novels, before unsettling with my Heels books, which are about 90k-100k each.

Good luck with the novel, Kissa!! You must come update us on your progress.


Keri Ford said...

The character always comes first to me. I may not know their name until 100pgs in, but they always come first. I typically find out as they do what the plot's gonna be and why I decided they were intersting enough to write about. And I've always written long. Tried that short writing before, boy do I lack the skills to do that!

But it is weird how you can look at writing the same basic princles so completely different. In the last couple of months I've started a regency and I write it totally different than I write my contemps!

my contemps I usually plow through from beginning to end. My regency has had me all over the darn place.

Debbie Mumford said...

Thanks for the invitation, Gemma! You 'Killers' have such a great site, I'm thrilled to be able to play here today.

I'm with you, Keri, my characters always come first. I may have a really cool idea, but nothing happens until my muse introduces the character.

LOL on not knowing his/her name for the first hundred pages or so...which brings up another weirdness of mine: I always title my piece before I write it! It's like the title focuses my thoughts. I sometimes change the title before it goes out into the world, but I always have a working title while I'm writing.

Anonymous said...

Great post Debbie!!

I have never really thought about it before, but I think I get a mix. Sometimes a situation pops into my head first, sometimes it's a tiny voice that steadily grows. And I guess I sort of just 'feel' what the story will be as I form the idea in my mind, so that I know how to pace it.

Though they often get away from me too. Most of my shorter stories end up being just chunks of future novels, really. *g*

Kathleen Oxley said...

I'm still focusing on short pieces - poetry, flash and short stories. I have a few stories/ideas that I think could grow into longer pieces - but I haven't really focused on that yet.

I write a lot in response to submission calls and contests - so often that designates the length I'm aiming for.

Thanks for sharing the insight of how it works for you, Debbie!

Debbie Mumford said...

Hi, Gwen *waves wildly* Thanks for dropping by! Since my first attempt at writing was that 100K novel, the first short pieces I attempted were actually vignettes of the characters from the novel. I just couldn't seem to get my head out of that universe! Fortunately, one of my early mentors challenged me to write a story a week for six weeks, with a limit of 2K per story.

Nice to see you, Kathleen! Yes, writing for submission calls does kind of remove the decision about length, doesn't it? I actually know quite a few writers who focus on short fiction, writing solely for magazines and anthologies. Novel length fiction isn't a writing requirement *lol*

Anonymous said...

I started out writing novels, then wrote novella, and then onto the short stories.

I always start with what if or a character.

Interesting topic.


Debbie Mumford said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cia! Actually, I'm glad I started with a novel (even an incredibly bad one *lol*) because I've always known I could write long if I wanted to...writing short, now that's another story entirely (pun intended!)

Christie Craig said...


Thanks for guest blogging at Killer Fiction. Most of the time, I find the character first. But sometimes there are some other things that trigger plot ideas. I do consider myself more of a character driven writer.

Great post. Interesting topic.

Crime Scene Christie

Debbie Mumford said...

Yay!! Crime Scene Christie commented on my post! Honestly, I think most romance writers do character driven stories...other genres, not so much.

Thanks for a great time on your blog!

KMFrontain said...

"Sometimes, the story is more than the writer anticipated."

I couldn't agree more. This has happened to me over and over.

Debbie Mumford said...

So nice to see you here, Karen!! Thanks for dropping by.

The interesting thing for me has been when *I* think the story is finished, but my beta readers say, "Oh! You've got to tell me about such and such!"


Anonymous said...

My Starstepping story started life as a writing exercise - write from the point of view of an animal - with my writing group. The voice of the dragon came to me very quickly; old, wicked and arrogant then the challenge was to try to work out what he was doing and why. And yes, there is more than a touch of Smaug in him.

Debbie Mumford said...

Oooo, you've hit my hot button, Martin...DRAGON!

I can hardly wait to read your story!