A Yankee and a Southern Belle with very different writing styles
who bonded one day while tweeting.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Writer Wednesday: How Long is Long Enough?

How Long is Long Enough? 

No, we’re not talking about that. Get you minds out of the gutter. We’re talking about story length. Today is release day for my first novella, The Treasure of Como Bluff, and since both my previously published books have been full length novels, writing a much shorter story was a new challenge for me.

The Treasure of Como Bluff is part of the Love Letters series from The Wild Rose Press, so the story length was already set at 20-25K words, about one quarter my usual length. Like any story, a novella needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. In a romance, the beginning must set the scene, introduce the hero and heroine, and establish the conflict that will drive the story. Even at this shorter length, the middle has to stir up the conflict until it erupts into the inevitable black moment, and the end resolves the conflict and wraps everything up in a satisfying package for the reader. My challenge was how to accomplish all this in 25K words.

If I were a pantser, I’m not sure I would ever have figured out how to approach the problem, so this is one point where I’m glad to be a plotter. I decided to take my usual process and apply mathematics to find the answer. Now, I am completely NOT a math person, but this method worked for me.

When plotting a full length novel, I usually plan for 20-21 chapters of approximately 20 pages each to end up with about 90K words. That seems to be the most natural fit for my style. For my novella, I started by cutting each number in half—10 chapters of approximately 10 pages. That meant one scene per chapter instead of the usual two and allowed me to write normal-length scenes instead of feeling pressure to abbreviate them. Of course, I had to plot my scenes carefully to be sure to include all the necessary elements for telling a complete story.

Another choice I made was to dramatically reduce the time frame of the story. My novels usually cover a period of many months. The action chapters of the novella take place in only a couple of weeks. There is a one-month gap between the black moment and the final chapter (conclusion), but I make that clear in the first paragraph.

I can’t claim this method will work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with a novella or are interested in trying a new length on of size, give it a shot. It worked for me.


Here’s the blurb for the story I managed to tell in one-quarter my usual length:

In her race against rival bone hunters, the last complication paleontologist Caroline Hubbard needs is an unconscious stranger cluttering up her dig site. Nicholas Bancroft might have the chiseled features and sculpted physique of a classical statue, but she's not about to let him hamper her quest to unearth a new species of dinosaur and make her mark on the scientific world.

Nick has come to Wyoming in search of silver but, after a blow to the head, finds himself at the mercy of a feisty, determined female scientist. Despite his insistence that he's just passing through, he agrees to masquerade as Caroline's husband to help save her job. Once their deception plays out, they face a crucial decision. Will they be able to see beyond their separate goals and recognize the treasure right in front of them?

Alison Henderson
www.alisonhenderson.com

14 comments:

  1. Good post. Thanks for sharing your formula. I've sold my first novella to TWRP and it's the first novella I've written. The story came to me almost complete. Gee, I hope I an do it again!

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    1. Congratulations on your sale! I have no doubt you'll be struck by inspiration again.

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  2. I wish I were more of a plotter. But, alas, I seem to write best flying by the seat of my stretchy pants. I winced at your organized process of plotting number of scenes per chapter, etc. I am soooo not organized. I write what my characters tell me and try my best to make it work. Your novella sounds great. And yay you for being so organized. Since I've read many of your books, I know it works, for you have a way of transporting me with so many sigh-worthy moments.

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    1. Vonnie, you obviously have an inherent sense of organization that you don't have to consciously think about. I've read your books, too, and everything happens where and when it should.

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  3. Wow, you're so organized. I've been working on a 3 book novella series. I started with 3 girlhood friends and gave them each a story. I had a vague idea of the suspense element for each plot, but that's it. My idea of an outline is a sentence for each chapter, usually only planned 2-3 chapters ahead. Somewhere in the back of my brain, I try to keep the final outcome in mind and work toward it. I WISH I could pull it together the way you do ahead of time. It would save on the nail biting!

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    1. We each have to be true to our own process. If I didn't plan things out, I'm afraid I'd be paralyzed by fear and indecision.

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  4. Interesting how you planned the novella. I'm just finishing one, and though I'm a pantser, I did one thing you did. I cut the chapters to 10 with approximately 10 pages in each for the same reason. Because I was allowed 40,000 words, I had some leeway and ended up using it with 12 chapters finishing the project. Other than that I planned nothing once I'd created the characters and the setting. Good post. The novella sounds good too.

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    1. Having some structure, even if I know it can be fluid, really helps me move forward with a project.

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  5. Love the insight on how you go about putting together your novellas. When I've written shorter length, the stories tend to come to me all laid out, instead of scene by scene like my longer ones do (yes, total pantser here!). Happy release day!

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    1. I'd be thrilled if my stories ever came to me all laid out! Usually, I just know the premise and have to start building the story.

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  6. Hi Alison,
    I also wrote a novella for the Love Letters line. It was the first novella I'd written and was much harder to write than a full length manuscript. I think a lot of the difficulties were because I'm a pantser for the most part and kept wanting to add subplots.

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    1. Katherine, I know yours was giving you fits. I'm so glad you finished it. A novella is a whole different can of worms, isn't it?

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