“Taking Liberties” by Mary Deal

Taking Liberties


Mary Deal

Encouragement for novella writers.

Take liberties with your writing process. I did. You can too. No matter what people said I couldn’t do, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and did it.

The seed for the novella, Caught in a Rip, which is the second story in my novel The Tropics, germinated ages ago when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At that time, I asked myself why I couldn’t write a story like that. Yeah, sure, I wasn’t seriously writing then. Yeah, sure, I finally said. Me, write like Ernest Hemingway?

My flaw was in thinking that I had to emulate Hemingway’s style. That concept didn’t come to me till after I had written my first novel and found my own style.

All those years, I toyed with the idea of writing a sea story, one where the protagonist faces her devils alone. Yes, a female protagonist, after all. I knew it would have to be a serious story, because I didn’t excel at humor. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write about a woman in a dire situation, but in the interim, I read Hemingway’s book again because that’s from where my first inspiration came.

After finishing my first novel manuscript, I decided to take some time off to better learn the art of manuscript submission. I could take a sabbatical from writing, study the “how to” submission manuals I’d accumulated and do my conjuring on the beaches of Kauai. Why live here if you never get into the ocean, right? I really had been immersed in my writing instead.

During one of my all-day outings to Ke`e Beach on the North Shore, I discovered those huge docile green sea turtles. I just happened to have my camera along. I spent more than two hours bobbing and diving around the deep side of the reef photographing when I realized I was exhausted. When I tried to haul myself back to the reef, I could barely fight the outbound tide. I nearly panicked.

Yet, at that very moment, the story of a woman in danger jelled in my mind. I would write about a woman photographing turtles and who gets caught in a rip current and swept out to sea.

At that very moment nothing could keep me from getting back to the beach and to my pen and notepad.

I thought I had a short story. I wrote for days. By the time I had polished the manuscript (or so I thought) I had a novella. At that time, I had no idea what to do with stories this length. Never mind that books like Hemingway’s and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl are only a couple hundred pages as completed publications. People said, “No one takes novellas anymore.” I just didn’t know what to do with a novella. So I posted it in an online workshop hoping to get a clue.

In the meantime, I was so jazzed at having written Caught in a Rip that I decided to lengthen another of my short stories languishing with no direction. At best, I might be able to publish a book of three to four novellas.

Then reviews began coming in from other novella writers in the workshop. So if the novella was a dying writing form, why were all these people writing them? I received reviews from mild comments to graciously picking my story apart. But everyone’s final comment was that Caught in a Rip was a great story, full of emotion, pain and epiphany and worthy of the 10-star ratings. Then I knew I needed to see it published. Why, it even had humor—in the last paragraph!

I formulated a plan. If incidences in both novellas written so far were similar, why not make my separate protagonists know one another? All that was left would be to decide which story came first. That led me to the fact that the two stories still did not make a “good” length for a whole book. I decided to rewrite both stories, leaving some clues dangling in each. Both my protagonists would then be brought together and all foreshadowing wrapped up in a third story—an ongoing time line with characters progressing through each story. A trilogy of sorts. That sounded right even though further comments told me no one publishes trilogies anymore.

By the time I finished the third story, I had a solid body of work with positive comments from everyone who read the manuscript.

In the end, I had taken liberties with progressive protagonists and time line. One of the most difficult aspects was wrapping up each story so that each could stand on its own and still leave some mystery to wrap up in the third and final story. Each of the three stories, if published separately, would be the size of Hemingway’s or Steinbeck’s books mentioned above. And so, three novellas comprise my novel entitled, The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret.

Liberties. Take them. Your Muse will respond and you will free your writing.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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