Thursday, May 13, 2010

My next project

Short forms do not come naturally to me as a writer. I've yet to submit a manuscript of less than 90,000 words, and I don't think I've ever had a first draft come in under 100,000. I'm even more comfortable on Facebook than Twitter precisely because the character limit isn't so stringent.

I've never written a short story, and I rarely read them. I want to really dig in to characters and their world, and there just isn't space enough to do that in a story that can be read in one sitting. (Unless, of course, that "one sitting" means sitting down with a book the instant you get home from work, avoiding chores, neglecting your own writing, and all but ignoring your family until, at 3 AM, you finally reach the end and stagger off to bed. I've done that a few times. OK, a few dozen times. Or more. Most recently while catching up on Julia Spencer-Fleming's Millers Kill mystery series, which are just plain wonderful books.)

However, much to my own amazement, I'm contemplating writing a novella. I've had an idea for a shipwreck romance bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, but my initial concept seemed far too complex and unwieldy for a nice, tidy 80K-100K novel. So I thought, "What if I strip away the secondary characters and subplots? Half of them are just me indulging myself with cameos by characters from The Sergeant's Lady or ones I'd like to write about in the future, and that can be annoying for readers." But when I did that, the story was too simple, with nowhere near enough conflict even for a short story.

I nearly shelved the whole idea as unworkable, but my critique partners kept saying they really liked it. So I started playing with my hero and heroine, trying to think what sort of conflict could take the story beyond "Me man, you woman, we on island paradise." I gave my hero a secret and my heroine an edge. I made the island less tropical and therefore less paradisaical. And I think I have a story now.

But unless I miss my guess, it's a novella. Less than 50,000 words. The characters have genuine problems driving genuine conflict, but unless I deliberately pad it out I don't think it'll take them a whole book's length to solve them.

It's a new venture for me, but I'm going to try it. New ventures are broadening to the mind, after all. There are at least two good potential markets that I know of--my current publisher, Carina, is looking for novellas, and if it comes in really short, like 15K or less, it might fit Harlequin's Undone line. And if it turns out I have more story than I think...well, hey, then I'll have another novel. Not a bad outcome at all.

Readers: Do you enjoy romance novellas or short stories? Why or why not?

Writers: Have you written a novella or short story? Any advice for how to make the transition from full-length novels?


  1. I once had to write a 40-pages-story. Out came a 200-pages-beast. I so relate with your "problem", Susanna.

    What I did: I took a part of the beast - ONE conflict - and gave it a good aftermath


  2. Thanks, Annemarie! That's what I'm trying to do--pick ONE conflict, but make sure it's really potent.

  3. I've never tried writing a novella, but I enjoy reading them. They can be hit or miss. It's such a short time for two people to meet, fall in love, and live HEA. The best one I've ever read is "Alpha and Omega" by Patricia Briggs. I enjoyed most of the shorts in "Must Love Hellhounds." One of the more clever anthologies I've read was "It Happened One Night," in which four Regency Romance authors took the same premise--two people meeting at a country inn after ten years--and ended up with vastly different stories. Such a neat writing exercise!

    Good luck!

  4. I think novellas and short stories often work better when the couple has some prior history--reunion stories and the like--so you don't have that, "I've only just met you but I know I want to be with you forever" factor. And I'm giving my couple a prior history, just not a particularly friendly one, so we'll see how that works for me!