A couple years ago I learned about a publisher looking for short stories featuring ghosts for an anthology. I whipped out a story, and as usual, it was too long. A friend of mine helped me chop it down to the required word length for submission. I'm not sure why, but I kept my original draft as well as the new one. Well, that's not true, I know why I kept it, I liked some of the extra stuff we cut. Al lot of the "voice" and "character" were in the extra parts, and I knew somewhere deep inside I might want to revisit this story someday.
I was right. My story didn't get picked up for the anthology, and it has sat in my files with all my other failed short stories. (I don't have a mind for short stories and have sold very few of them). Recently, I learned of a publisher looking for YA novellas between 15,000-20,000 words. This story seemed to fit the kind of plot they were looking for, but now it was too short. Luckily, I had kept that slightly longer story, but it was still only 7,000 words. I had to add a minimum of 8,000 words to it to make it marketable. What would that do to the plot? Could the story survive being doubled in length? Would it be better for it or bogged down with too much description and extra stuff.
I decided to attempt it. Over the past few weeks I went through my story and added bits here and there to pump the story up and add layers to the plot. In the end, I reached my word count goal. I will submit it to the publisher and keep my fingers crossed. If they say no, the story may sit around for a while again. I'm not sure I can pump it up to a full fledged novel unless I make this story just a piece of a larger plot. At any rate, wish me luck.
Here's some examples of what it looked like as a short story and now as a novella. Mark has been getting mysterious notes all morning at school that seem to be advising him as to how to write a proper love note to his girlfriend. He is beginning to wonder where the notes are coming from? See how in the original version he jumps to the conclusion that it is a ghost quickly, whereas in the new version he doesn't.
Short Story version of "Passing Notes":
Suddenly my heart began to race and painful chills rain down my arms and legs. Someone was communicating with me through those letters. Someone I couldn’t see but was able to see me. A ghost?
And more frightening still, I realized that I might lose Bethany before we even got going.
I couldn’t eat. I threw my lunch away and headed to my next class where I barely concentrated on the P.E. soccer game. All I could think about were those creepy letters and my stupid cell phone, wondering if I’d get a new message from either of them. I checked everything when I got back to the locker room before I dressed. Not so much as a smiley face from Bethany and no new notes.
Novella version of "Passing Notes":
My heart began to race and painful chills rain down my arms and legs. Two things had me terrified:
I might lose Bethany
Those notes weren’t coincidental. They were meant for me.
Whoever it was writing the notes had to be someone really stealthy to be able to slip them into strategic places for me to find and then return to make them disappear again. Also, it was someone with a keen interest in my love life and how I was conducting myself.
My friends at my table were busy with their phones or gaming devices; no one was really talking much except to say, “Look at this!” or the occasional cuss. I hadn’t even told any of them about Bethany yet. Even though I’m sure they would cheer me on, none of them had much experience with girls, certainly not enough to give me advice that would be of any value. None of them, as far as I knew, had ever written a love letter or even a poem (that wasn’t required for some English assignment). Plus, none of them were in my classes that morning. Who else would care about the quality of my texts to Bethany?
The whole thing had a stalker feel to it. That didn’t make a lick of sense to me, though. I’m not the kind of guy that a girl stalks. I shot up over the summer last year, so I’m not as short as I used to be. The five-year war I’d been fighting with pimples was finally coming to an end. Mom keeps saying that my shoulders are broad like my dad’s, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I’ve never thought of myself as one of the good-looking guys, and the fact that Bethany even gave me a chance seemed like a minor miracle. So, who on earth would be interested in me to the point of stalking?
Or was it one of those girls like Sadie Jones, who bought all the same clothes as Bethany and tried to imitate her all the time? Girls like her creeped me out. I could believe someone like her would send me weird notes like this to get in the middle of what was going on between Bethany and me.
I almost convinced myself of that, and found myself scanning the cafeteria for Sadie to see where she was sitting when another thought hit me. Nether Sadie, nor anyone else for that matter, would have been able to read the texts I sent Bethany. I had been in the back of the room when I sent them, and odds were Bethany didn’t even have her phone out, let alone on, during class. No one could have known what I wrote, and therefore no one could tell me that I wrote the notes badly.
Everyone else in the cafeteria was busy talking, eating and cutting up with their friends. No one was looking at me as far I could tell. But I felt like there were eyes on me. Right over my shoulder. The feeling actually made my shoulder tingle, like when someone is too close, and I shrugged uncomfortably.
I couldn’t eat. I threw my lunch away and headed to my next class where I barely concentrated on the P.E. soccer game. All I could think about were those creepy letters and my stupid cell phone, wondering if I get a new message from either of them. I checked everything when I got back to the locker room before I dressed. Not so much as an emoticon from Bethany and no new notes.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.