Monday, February 07, 2011

Thoughts on Stretch Armstrong and Balls of Various Sizes

I never liked Stretch Armstrong.

I never saw the point in him. To me, he was a flaccid, creepy thing that encouraged toy torture and mutilation. Evidently, little girls weren't Kenner's target market, 'cause for a while Stretch seemed to be the Barbie for those sporting a Y chromosome.  When I was growing up, every boy I knew had a Stretch Armstrong, or a Stretch Monster, or a Stretch Hulk.

Few of my friends actually used Stretch for his intended purpose. Most were overly eager to find out what was inside him (red goo). They quickly discovered that puncturing Stretch's skin compromised his integrity, ruining his stretchability and remanding him to the pile of Cannon Fodder toys that got to die over and over again in epic battles against Godzilla, Transformers, and both the Empire and the Rebel Forces.

To this day, I try to steer clear of Stretch.

I am in the process of turning a completed novella into a novel. The novella began as a screenplay (which I am still in love with), and read like one: visual, action-packed, tight, and to the point.

In my humble opinion, I believe that short stories and novellas make the best screenplays.  The shorter prose format translates well into an hour and a half of screen time. Conversely, screenplays are relatively easy to turn into novellas.

But agents are notoriously *meh* about novellas. Probably because traditional publishers are even less geeked about them.  I really like the story and the characters, so I'm delving into their world more deeply, fleshing things out more and working to turn my sprinter into a distance runner.

What I don't want to do is turn my novella into the literary equivalent of Stretch Armstrong.  I don't want to slavishly adhere to the original story and merely ... st-r-e-t-ch... it... out... beyond... all... recognition... or... use.

If the story is going to merit becoming a novel, it's going to need depth that will support its added length. I can't let the added words pull the plot all out of proportion or distort the story.

In other words, I need to ditch Stretch and think: balls.

(I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong. Bear with me here...)

My story is complete. I spent weeks contemplating its arc, its characters, and their motivations. The B & C stories are also complete. These are all the Big Things that work together to make the story gel.  These are the structural equivalent of basketballs.

When I began writing the novella, I had a specific story space to fill. I filled it with the equivalent of plot-related basketballs. If I move a basketball, I will affect all of the other basketballs in the space. The major pieces of the story are in place. If I  dislodge (or stretch) any one piece, I jeopardize the whole story.

This does not mean, however that the story space has no room left for content. There is plenty of room between basketballs. One or two soccer balls will fit, as may a volleyball or three. The odd bowling ball may also find a place. What this means in practical terms is that my B and C stories have plenty of room for development. So do my characters with regards to their motivation, aspirations, emotional depth, and maturation.

After that, there will still be room in the story space for the literary equivalent of softballs, pool balls, tennis balls, racquet balls, and ping pong balls.  Heck, when those have filled in their gaps, I can toss in a whole mess of marbles just for the fun of seeing the sun glint off their pretty colors.

During this process, all I have to do is remember why I always distrusted Stretch. I never want to run the risk of stretching the story or plot beyond all recognition. I just want to fill the allotted story space with enough balls that there's something to engage the attention of everyone who is willing to read it and take me up on a game of one-on-one.

Do you have a favorite technique for adding depth (or word count)? Share it below! I'd love to hear it.


Angela Parson Myers said...

I think Stretch Armstrong came along between me and my kids, but I'm dealing with a similar problem. I've finished an action-packed novelette and need to make it at least a novella. Sounds like you have a handle on yours--wish me luck.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Good luck Angela! What about interweaving a B story, or amping up a minor character to bring him /her into the major leagues? If the shorter work is action packed, I bet there is plenty of opportunity for you to add detail and nuance without sacrificing structure.

Keep me posted on your progress!

Amanda said...

Sometimes adding words is harder than deleting them. I have a 75k novel that I'd like to try and sell. Problem is, it feels about 25k short. It's going to take a bit to get it up to fighting weight, probably one of the reasons I haven't opened the file in almost a year! Good luck with your novella. May it be a full-fledged novel soon! Oh, and, my husband came across an ad for a Stretch Armstrong movie in the works staring Taylor Lautner! ;)