Last April I finished the developmental edits on my fourth novel and sent it off to my publisher. I’d turned the manuscript in three weeks earlier and had spent the time with my fabulous editor to polish it before my husband and I left for a week of vacation. Typically, edits take me four weeks of back and forth with my editor. I like to take my time, and I want to know my editor is taking her time to make it the best it can be. We finished up the day before I left for vacation. I deliberately left my laptop at home. On vacation I had three days of nothing to do but read, sleep, and lay by the pool before the email arrived.
Sometimes I curse my smartphone. I like my email and Facebook at the touch of a button, but I should know to leave it behind when I’m trying to relax.
The email was from an editor I didn’t know at my publishing house. She asked if I had any short stories under 20K lying around that I’d like to submit for a new imprint. I snorted. Short stories? I don’t write short. Most of my books are 90K to 100K words long. I don’t like to read short stories or novellas. I like a long, meaty book with lots of characters and twists. The longer, the better in my mind. If I’m in love with the world the author has introduced, I don’t want it to end.
I showed my husband the email. He simply shook his head. He knew I didn’t have spare stories, and he knew my opinion on short stories. We’d visited the topic several times in the past; he loves to read them and I do not.
Then as I lay in the tropical breeze, I started to reconsider. Book four of my series wouldn’t come out until nine months after the third book. That’s a long stretch. I’d hoped for six months, but my publisher couldn’t fit it into the schedule. Would a novella be a good idea?
I was between stories. I hadn’t even decided what character to write about for my fifth book, and I’d given myself a nice long deadline to write it. Could I squeeze in a short story and get something out before my January 2014 release? My other books always take a nice jump in sales when I have a new release. Could a short story do the same? How long would it take me to write? I like to do at least 2K a day when I’m cranking out the first draft of a novel. In theory, I could write a short in 10 days. If I had an idea. I asked the editor when she wanted the story, and she said two and half weeks.
I immediately emailed Allison Brennan to ask for advice. I’d paid attention when she wrote her first novella several years ago and had learned it’s a whole different animal than a novel. Here’s what she told me:
- Write linearly. Go from point A to B to C. Don’t jump around.
- Avoid subplots to limit tangents
- Choose the romance or the suspense angle. There isn’t enough time to develop both.
- Narrow down the setting. Pick an isolated location for the story. It keeps other factors away.
- Stick to one or two POVs
- To keep pacing strong, avoid too much introspection and downtime.
She also suggested that I think of it as a TV episode, not a movie, and to plot the entire story. I spent the rest of my vacation brainstorming a plot. I decided to go with an established couple, Jack and Lacey, from my first novel, HIDDEN, and eliminated a developing romance storyline. I wrote only in Lacey’s POV, put the couple in a remote luxury hotel, and put a dead woman wearing a wedding dress in the hot tub. Instant story.
By the time I had the details worked out, I had five days to deadline. I wrote twenty thousand words in four days and edited on the fifth. Then sat back to wait to see if they wanted it.
I liked writing the story. I’d always planned to return to this couple and write another book for them. Since I wrote the story within a few days, I was able to keep the whole story line in my head and not forget anything. It drives me crazy when I’m working on a novel, and I completely drop a thread or never use a red herring I’d planted.
The editor loved the story, but I had to wait while the publication date got pushed back over and over. Amazon was gearing up to launch StoryFront, an imprint devoted to short fiction. The new store and my story, VEILED, debuted on December 4th. Guess what I’m writing and plotting now? Sure enough, another novella.
Do you like to read novellas? Do you like to write them?