I am a novellaist.
You can be a novellaist too.
It’s really not that difficult; not to say it’s easy either. If you understand the basic formula of a novel, then know that a novella is merely a novel with a compact plot, written in generally 20-25k words. Key word: PLOT.
And, I always say, how do you spell plot? That’s right—
G. M. C.
I love reading novellas. I usually buy one when we’re on a family vacation. Over the years I’ve read some good ones . . . and some bad ones that don’t amount to much than A Week/Month in the Life of the Heroine. You know the story. Girl is happily (or not) going along with her life when boy arrives. He’s different. Interesting. A bit sexy. Maybe they argue. Or they get along. If there’s conflict, it’s based on a misunderstanding or on lack of communication skills. Finally they decide they’re in love and thus get married. All in all, nothing really happens. The only “steaks” in the novel are what they had for dinner.
Bacon-wrapped filet mignon is what I want to eat.
A figurative time bomb is what I want in my fiction. Even if it’s only an emotional one.
If I had to choose one common denominator in “bad” novellas, it’s the leads have no goals, no motivation for a goal, and no conflict for achieving that goal. (I’ve actually read a few novels like that too. *sigh*)
I never thought I could write a novella. “My brain only thinks in 90k-word plots,” I once said to a critique partner. Then my agent suggested I submit a proposal for a 9-in-1 anthology that Barbour was doing. The coward that I am decided to throw sanity to the wind and do it.
The problem I had was I had no idea how to write a novella. It’s only 20k words!!!!
What seemed the logical step was to google “secrets to writing a novella.” I google a lot. Secrets to cleaning house. Secrets to brainwashing children. Secrets to looking fabulous after 40 when you can’t afford liposuction and are too lazy to exercise. Problem was I couldn’t find any novella-writing secrets. Erg. That’s when I did something totally brave and not-Gina-ish. I e-mailed Linda Goodnight, sincerely raved to her about a recent novella of hers that I’d read, then asked her for novella writing tips.
I’ve met some published authors who the most they’d give you is their autograph. Linda didn’t send me back a short-paragraph-at-most answer. She sent me “the secret.” And she said I could share. So I do. If you ever pass these along, please give Linda credit.
Linda Goodnight’s Novella Writing Formula
(with Gina Welborn commentary)
1. Think of a storyline just like a longer book, only plan for very short chapters--say, 10 or 12 eight page chapters.
What works for me is having 7-10 chapters. I also vary pages per chapter. Be flexible on # of chapters. Adjust for each story and for how you write. I’ve written three novellas for Barbour. “Sugarplum Hearts” has 8 chapters. “All Ye Faithful” has 10 chapters. “Mercy Mild” has 9 chapters. My yet-unsold-but-written novella “If I Loved You Less” is 7 chapters. Consistency is not my spiritual gift, and I’m good with that.
2. Think linear--in other words, focus on one plotline only. There is no room for anything else. Here’s where GMC matters. Hero and heroine both have goals. How are those goals in conflict, or how can they work together to push leads together? Secondary characters need to have dimension, but they exist to aid or distract lead(s) and to help the main plot along. Keep the plot SIMPLE. Keep the motivation simple. Keep the spiritual and emotional issues simple. And keep in mind, simple doesn’t mean shallow.
3. Lay out your story as a miniature three act play with:...A. Inciting incident which sets up the conflict and gets the H/H together on page one.
Whether the leads are both on page one or not, you MUST establish the conflict on page one that’s going to push H/H together. Although, leads meeting on page one is ideal. My motto—be flexible. In “Sugarplum,” my unknown-to-each-other leads don’t meet until the end of chapter 1. In “Faithful,” my-know-each-other leads don’t interact until two pages into chapter 2. But in both, the story conflict (what pushes them together) is established on the first page.
...B. A turning point or 'uh-oh' at the end of the first quarter of the book (about chapter 3 or 4.) This is usually something that propels the H/H to be together whether they like it or not.
...C. A love scene at mid-point -- the characters are at the emotional point of no return. They recognize they are falling in love but don't know what to do about it yet. Usually, there's a kiss or a hand touch (or in spicy books, a more graphic love scene.) and lots of longing and yearning.
If you’re writing a romance, don’t forget the romance! In this year’s Christmas novella, “Mercy Mild,” my leads have an almost-kiss in chapter 5, first kiss in chapter 6, and HEA kiss in chapter 9. Lots of longing and yearning in that novella because they begin the story already in love. Want to know something crazy? Marianne and Zeke don’t even talk to one another until chapter 5. Total violation of Linda’s Point 3A. I took a risk with that novella because it is two love stories—H/H and heroine/child. Here’s where I say, just because a published author did it that way doesn’t mean you should. If you are going to break a “rule” or “formula,” make sure you have a reason that makes sense to your crit partners and editor.
...D. At the 3/4 point comes the black moment- The big trouble scene or the break-up of the H/H.
...E. Then work through the issues and resolve the romance--and of course, leave them with the 'ahhh' at the end.
Those are the elements that HAVE to be in there. Once you've laid those out, you will either be writing out of one point or into another all the time, so you can flesh in the other chapters with those kinds of scenes.
As I was writing my first novella, I asked multi-novella-published author Pamela Griffin for advice. She suggested writing the summary in paragraph blocks—each block a chapter. Doing so can help you figure out if you can get all the pertinent info in a single chapter, and if not, how to whittle and what to keep or toss.
4. And of course, write tight. Keep descriptions succinct without leaving out those all important senses--like spice in food--just enough for flavor. Only include absolutely essential back story and do it in very short little bites. Those can be woven into the action or dialogue that's propelling the main, linear plot. Assuming it's a romance, focus on the love story most of all and have the rest of the plot directly relate to that relationship.
One final piece of advice that Linda didn’t include but I will. Because novellas are short (ACFW Carol puts them at 15k-40k), you generally want to limit the point of views to hero and heroine. I’ve yet to include a third point of view, but I totally see how including the villain’s is do-able. Someday I want to write a novella in the heroine’s point of view only.
Writing a novella isn’t easy to do. But neither is writing one as hard as that pancake I found under middle child’s bed (don’t ask).
Not only are novellas an opportunity to break into the market, they are also a smart means of promoting larger works of fiction. Roseanna White recently wrote one to cover the time period between books 1 and 2 in her first Harvest House series. In today’s publishing market, novellas can be a useful marketing tool.
Have you written a novella before? Would you consider writing one? Anything else you’d like to know about writing novellas?
In addition to being a mom and a writer, Gina Welborn is the president of Faith Hope & Love, the inspirational chapter of Romance Writers of America. Because she loved how the ladies at Seekerville cultivated their friendship by starting a team blog, she figured why not do it too. Thus after recruiting author friends who shared her vision, Gina started Inkwell Inspirations. It’s targeted to the everyday person we in the writing world refer to as “Normals.” Her next novella, “Mercy Mild” in Mistletoe Memories releases this September. In addition, she has two novels coming out in 2014: The Heiress’s Courtship (HQN Heartsong, January) and A Bride by Design (Abingdon, fall). Gina can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ginamarie.welborn, on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/ginawelborn/ and Twitter @gina_welborn.
“All Ye Faithful”
Every week for two years, E.V. Renier has petitioned the local brewery magnate for permission to marry his daughter. Despite receiving a sound rejection each time, E.V. continues in hope of proving the faithfulness of his character. Heiress Larkin Whitworth has no idea of the quiet yet charming sawmiller’s devotion. Not until awful rumors about her rip through the town. As the annual Christmas soiree approaches, Larkin fears E.V.’s love might not be as strong as the shameful truth she’s trying to hide.
Read an excerpt from “All Ye Faithful” here.
Read an excerpt from “Sugarplum Hearts” here.
Today Gina is giving one commenter their choice of a print or e-copy of her Christmas novella "All Ye Faithful" in A Cascades Christmas. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
|THE LAST BLOGGER OF SPEEDBO 2013|