With guest Lisa Phillips.
We hear it all the time. One author is working on the next book in her series, another is writing a novella. Someone else is publishing a book as four episodes—a “serial” novel. At some point in your writing career, chances are you’re going to do most—if not all—of these.
That’s what we’ll be talking about today. So grab your morning cup of Joe, and join me in dissecting the many lengths your story can be.
My latest book, Star Witness, is a Love Inspired Suspense. These books range from the 55 to 60 thousand word mark. They typically have two points of view—the hero and heroine—and maybe some layers, but NO subplot. With that kind of word count, you don’t want to waste any page time on stuff that’s not vitally important to the danger, and the love.
Let’s do a glossary first.
Plot – what’s happening in the book.
Layer – an element of the story that directly relates to character growth and so plot also. It would not stand alone as a story (it lacks a three act structure).
Sub-plot – a story within the story. A sub-plot has all the elements of your main plot (inciting incident, rising conflict and climax) but it’s not the actual story. It simply runs concurrently.
With a long novel—seventy-five thousand words plus—you have the luxury of time to spend in other character’s heads. Maybe you choose not to do this, but you CAN in a full-length novel. Your main character could just as easily be aware her sister is having relationship struggles, and the reader can see that as a sub-plot through the main character’s eyes. But we could also see those struggles through the sister’s own eyes while the reader takes a break from the other main characters every few chapters. Later, the two plots could collide at the climax so that your story benefits from the character’s ability to help solve each other’s problems. Or, maybe they realize it was one problem all along, and they team up.
Brainstorm it out: Maybe Julie and Sam don’t have enough of a story to warrant a book of their own. In that case, their story can be a sub-plot within Julie’s sister’s book. The more books you write, the easier it’ll be to tell how much story potential your idea has.
Shorter works like novellas can range in word count. It could be almost a short story, or anywhere up to forty thousand words—if not longer. Typically in this business we get told how long it should be, rather than asked how long it’s going to be. Unless you’re a self-publishing rebel (hi) and then you can make your work as long as you like, call it what you want, publish it when you feel like it, and even take it off Amazon just because you’ve decided you don’t like it anymore because you wrote it two years ago and you’re a WAY better writer now…
As I was saying… Novellas. Right.
Love Inspired type novels stick with the hero and heroine’s POV. You can, as the writer, choose to show what’s happening with a secondary character, but it would act more like a layer than a sub-plot. Be very careful it doesn’t detract from the main plot. Any layer or sub-plot should not take away from the main character’s page time—it should add to it. Tension, character arc, theme. It should reinforce all that stuff, making the main plot stronger.
Novellas are weird. Let’s just get that out there right now. Readers aren’t sure if they like them, I don’t know if I want to write one… It just might be a match made in heaven, if not for the fact books which are 99 cents sell better on Amazon. So—face it—you might have to suck it up and write one.
I just called mine a “prequel” story instead. You know—to make myself feel better.
Novellas are your novel distilled down to its purest elements. There’s just no room for rambling, or stuff the reader won’t care about anyway.
Man, woman, Jesus, love. Danger. Explosion. Death-defying rescue. Swoon-worthy kiss.
That’s all. Whether it’s 15 or 50 thousand words—make them good.
If you want to learn more about sub-plots and layers, I would recommend you read Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. I’d lend you mine, but it’s falling apart. She does a great job of explaining how to brainstorm layers, and weave in sub-plots. She takes you through each major plot point of the three acts, and shows you how the character grows through it all. In short, it’s everything you ever wanted to know about plot and character (which is pretty much all of writing).
It’s good to learn these things. That’s probably why you’re here—to get a pep-talk. As writers, we have to face the changing market, pitching woes, reader expectations, pressure to market, pressure to produce more, and better.
I’ve discovered—particularly in switching from writing a Love Inspired Suspense to writing a full length novel—that this job really is hard. A hundred thousand words is a LOT, and you have to sit there and type ALL OF THEM. Every single word. But I love this story, and I believe my readers will love it too.
I’m going to say this again, because it bears repeating.
Sometimes I don’t want to do it. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’re burned
out. A lot of us are. Let’s purpose to pray for Christian writers,
Christian publishers and Christian readers. We all need His strength in
A British ex-pat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa Phillips attended Calvary Chapel Bible College where she met her husband. He’s from California, but nobody’s perfect. She’s taken the Apprentice and Journeyman writing courses with the Christian Writers Guild, and discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after. Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. Find out what’s COMING NEXT www.authorlisaphillips.com
Check out Lisa’s latest novel: Star Witness.
Mackenzie Winters spent years building a life in Witness Protection, but when someone shoots at her, she fears her cover has been blown. Could the brother of the drug lord she put away be here for revenge? Mackenzie must rely on her handler’s twin, world-weary Delta Force soldier Aaron Hanning, to protect her. Aaron doesn’t want to be anyone’s hero, but he can’t let this brave woman die. Now, with danger stalking them, they’ll have to make a daring choice that means life or death—for them both.
Question: Have you tackled different length novels? Which is your favorite? Are you a purist, or a “try anything once” author? Tell us about your struggles with length, or your idea for a short story and get entered to win one of TWO copies of Star Witness!! (Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.)
And in honor of her visit to Seekerville, I am putting my two indie novels, BAIT and SANCTUARY LOST on sale at 99 cents, today only, for Seekers to enjoy.