Mark Kelly's novel, Mauna Kea Rising, a science fiction story set on the Hawaiian islands, debuted this month. Here, Mark tells us how it all began, with a short story:
Years ago, I started my writing practice like many other authors by crafting short stories. One of our most prolific short story writers, Anton Chekov, published 568 stories during his brief lifetime. I’ll never reach his level, but I try to write every day, one story at a time. I enjoy the short form because it forces me to ask what is really important to the story. Trying to squeeze setting, characters arcs, and a compelling plot within 3,000 to 5,000 words is an excellent exercise in minimalism. Writing great scenes is a craft that improves with practice, especially with short stories—all scenes need to pull double duty. Every scene in a short story needs to propel the plot forward. Every scene also needs to either reveal character or deepen the conflict.
After writing "The Wayfinders," a short story about a Polynesian navigator sailing across the Pacific in 1054 CE, I came back to it over and over again. It eventually became the prologue of my first draft of Mauna Kea Rising, my debut novel published this month. I had thought it might offer a great context for the science fiction book. One of my favorite authors, Arthur C. Clarke, did this to great success. He took his 1948 short story, The Sentinel, and developed it into the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey. He then adapted and expanded the 1968 film into an award-winning novel.
Sometimes novels need a prologue, even at the risk of damaging a little of their subtext. These may be scenes that offer complicated backstories that must be explained upfront in order for readers to understand what’s going on later in the book. They may also add to world-building in science fiction and fantasy novels. In Clarke’s 2001, A Space Odyssey, the prologue takes place thousands of years before the main event. It works because it provides the subtext for the story’s premise: human encounter with alien technology in the 21st century. The introduction also provides an important setup crucial to the main character’s arc.
Yet, "The Wayfinders" didn’t fit well into my novel for many reasons. The 15,000-word prologue was bloated and forced readers to begin the story twice. The prologue started with two characters a millennium before the main plotline for Mauna Kea Rising and had little to do with the novel’s premise, a single mother’s struggle to survive the aftermath of an epic solar storm. It grabbed readers with a “fake” hook, wasting their time with extraneous material instead of allowing them to get into the real story right away. Despite my love for the story, I had to cut it. “Kill your darlings,” right?
Well, not so fast. Although I dropped the prologue, I included a few of its ideas in Mauna Kea Rising as part of a frame-story technique—a story within the story. It became a plot device that prophesied the dangers faced by the main character. I also went back and edited the story, adding more conflict, shortening it to 5,000 words, tightening the character arc, and adding a twist at the end. This month, Torrid Literature Journal accepted "The Wayfinders" for their Spring edition. So, never throw anything away. You just don’t know when your old material might become useful.
Lourdes Venard is a freelance editor and copyediting instructor.