I used to hide in my closet. I had a cardboard box for a desk and a manual typewriter and a lamp. I would sit in there for hours and dream of faraway places. I was only ten years old.
It was difficult, because I had to type every word correctly or the whole page would be wasted. It took all day just to get a paragraph right. Then someone explained to me the idea of correction tape.
My first story was really short. That is, the first story I ever wrote that I felt was really important, that one was short. I’d just read Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, part of the series of The Chronicles of Narnia. In the story, there’s an island with invisible people who walk on one foot, called the Dufflepuds.
Probably you know what I’m talking about. This concept fascinated me. I wrote a short story about an invisible friend and, well, have lost the original since then, but it went something like this:
By D. S. White
“Where are you going?”
“Just down the stairs.”
“I’m looking for the bottom. I need to get out of here.”
“They go down forever, you know.”
“No, that’s impossible.”
“Well, I’ve got to go. See you later.”
The stairs did seem to go down a long time. I walked down and down and down. I never found the bottom. The voice had been right.
“Where are you going?”
“Just up the stairs.”
“They go up forever, too,” the voice said.
“Who are you anyway? What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I live here in the stairs. I’ve got nobody to play with. Will you stay and talk a while?”
“No, I’ve got to go. There has to be a way out of here somewhere.”
“Well, I got in somehow. I’ll find a door.”
The stairs went up and up, with no door, no end, and no way out. I stopped to think about it.
“What are you thinking?” the voice said.
“How did I get here?”
“You were born here.”
“How is that possible? I’m already twelve years old.”
“You’ll never escape the stairway in your mind.”
It was short, simple, and to the point, and it had a nice twist at the end. It was a psychological story. Even today, I’m fascinated by the psychological experience of the reader. But this one was too short. Way too short. The story The Stairway is around 100 words long. To get something published in a magazine in those days, you needed thousands of words. This was long before the flash fiction revolution took place.
My first book was 100 pages long, handwritten pages. I’d given up on the typewriter for that one. It was a story about two young boys, twins, and mistaken identity. It was a murder mystery. I wrote really big and often put only three words on a line. I had to get to 100 pages.
But it was still too short. To get published at that time, there was a hard fast rule that you had to have 100,000 words for a book. They said, if you did everything right, if you spent the right amount of time on exposition and dialog and description and conflict and resolution, it would bring you to right around 100,000 words. This was before the self-publishing revolution took place.
Nowadays, anything goes, which is a good thing. The rules of that era turned out a lot of books that all followed the same formula.
And so there is the question. As writers, do we follow the formula or not? Do we have any choice? This blog explores things like that. Thanks for reading.