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Using Short Stories to establish a series

During NanNoWriMo 2017, I wrote the second draft of The Monster Within. The 'contest' was a great experience and I recommend everyone try it at least once. The 2017 event had left me with a quandary, however. I had a novel that could either be the start of a new series, or could be re-written to be a stand alone novel. What should I do? Writing a series is no small commitment - it is a minimum commitment of at least 3 books and involves all kinds of story commitments like reusing characters, plotting multi-novel plotlines and owning up to that terrible plot twist you did four novels ago. Most importantly, if you are exploring the world of one series, you aren't exploring another one.

Dark Days had been built with the idea of a series in mind, but now I had to make a solid commitment. Could I create not just one story in this universe, but many? I could have written a couple additional novels to prove the concept, but that would have involved months of commitment and carried with it all the drawbacks if I had continued anyway.

Instead I turned to short stories and Scribophile. If I could write six short stories in the Dark Days universe, I reckoned I could write two more novels. For those unfamiliar with Scribophile, it is a peer review website that encourages authors to submit sections of text (either short stories or chapters of larger works). Authors post work, and other writers leave their feedback. Leave enough feedback and the site will let you post your own work. By putting the short stories on Scribophile, I could also collect feedback on elements of the setting, from the rules of Dark Days 's magic system to the nature of the federal government.

I had some great successes with the first batch of Short Stories. Buyer's Remorse was written from the perspective of a young man getting into Ardetha and defined how the gang recruited and maintained its power. Temporary Supervillian helped me define how rift-changed powers worked and provide some crucial details on how the early days of the ERC worked as the world woke up to the reality of the rifts. Trapped in Immigration brought up excellent discussions and and points in how 'stock humans' would see the rift-changed and how the government would struggle to deal with the situation in which people themselves could be classified as state-controlled weapons. Of all the stories Obligation to Act was the most influential. It was set with a simple premise; that a 'beat' police officer had been using spellcraft to do some vigilante work on his own only to be confronted with the consequences of his pride. The arguments presented by the hero turned villain Hank set up an important part of the premise in Death Experiments as he represented an important story element I had missed: What was it like being a normal cop in a world where the criminals could unexpectedly throw fireballs or kill with their bare hands?

I finished the compilation with eight short stories that were considered good enough to keep. Not every story involved Mhanke Heights - many don't even take place during the right time period. What they do show is that there was enough room in Dark Days to support a plethora of plot lines and stories. Marcus Black, Olivia Baer, and Mhanke Heights didn't have to end with the explosive ending in The Monster Within. After writing these short stories I knew I could commit to the multiple novels needed to bring Dark Days to fans.

What if the stories hadn't worked out? In the end, I committed an additional 12,000 words creating the eight stories that proved my concept. If, at any point, I had felt like the world of Dark Days wasn't working or was preventing the stories from being written, I could have simply dropped the project and edited The Monster Within to be a single standalone book. By taking snapshots of life outside the boundaries of the first book, I could have uncovered problems in the plot that it might have otherwise taken one or two additional novels to uncover. I actually did find some problems; the original take on magic had been loose enough to make the line between spellcraft and rift-changed blurry at best, and several aspects of a government that is no longer in as strict control as it once was had to be hammered out. Luckily, these short stories allowed me to handle these issues before too many words had been written.

What about those short stories? There aren't enough to make an anthology out of, but I will be releasing them on this website periodically. Be forewarned! No editor was there to save you from my often egregious grammar and spelling mistakes.

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