Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Writer's World: Learning to Write a Novella - Annie West

They say there's nothing as good for you as trying something new: stretching yourself and finding an additional challenge so you don't get stale. In my previous (pre-writing) career, I found that the times when I felt most pleased with my achievements and when I felt like I was really growing professionally was when I took on some new project, often something I found daunting and was forced to learn and adapt on the job. You know that situation: when you're asked to take something on that you've never done before and you nod and smile and say 'of course' then leave the room, all the while wondering just how on earth you're going to manage it.
For me, writing a novella was like that. Easy, you say? Maybe you've written them yourself and find them no trouble. Maybe you started out with novellas and worked your way up to something more. I, on the other hand, tend to write long. When I write a category novel a large part of my editing is finding ways to prune words to get within word count and still retain the feel of the story. Writing short isn't my natural style. When I first started writing I did try my hand at short stories. To my surprise I was successful (I sold to some major women's interest magazines) but it was a lesson in how difficult it can be to write short. Every word has to count.
So, why bother? Why not stick to what I know? I'd love to say I decided I needed a challenge. Actually, it was more prosaic. The scheduling gods weren't on my side and I found myself facing a long gap between book releases despite the fact I'd been writing steadily. Sometimes it happens like that. But eleven months between books is a long time for a category author, especially when readers are in contact asking when the next book will be out. It doesn't matter how hard you've been working and how many books you've finished, if readers want your next story, you don't want to disappoint them.
A novella was the answer. I didn't have time for another book between my contracted titles and I wanted room to explore two fascinating characters, not just touch on a cute first meet or single scene as I've done in short stories. But where to start?
First up I had to have a strong conflict with real, passionate characters, just as in my longer books. No way did I want to short change my readers with a sense that this story didn't matter to me.
Then I searched for a story I could handle within a limited word count. (I was aiming for between 10,000 and 20,000 words and finally came in at about 17,000 words). Given my tendency to write long, a reunion romance seemed a good choice. That way the couple already had a history I could use to fuel their passion, but I didn't have to show it all on the page. This had the added bonus of letting me jump straight into the conflict with a minimum of explanation. I love stories where the action and emotion takes off straight from page one!
So that meant diving straight into the action and keeping the focus on the hero and heroine. Yes, there are a couple of secondary characters mentioned in my novella (who may just happen to have a place in a future story or two) but I forced myself not to follow them too closely. While I was fascinated by them I cut their appearances to the bare minimum. This had to be solely about Fabrizio and Jenna.
Something I don't usually do is map out in black and white what scenes there will be in a book and whose point of view I'll use. Usually I work that out as I go. This time, however, I planned what each scene would be, what it achieved and revealed and who suffered most. That did change just a little as I wrote but planning ahead really helped me to focus on keeping the story tight.
One thing I did initially without planning was to keep the chapters shorter than usual. Once I'd begun that way I found that quicker pace seemed to keep the story rolling along and had the bonus of keeping me enthused for what would happen next. It also meant I could write a whole scene in a manageable chunk.
The result? I had an absolute ball writing my novella BACK IN THE ITALIAN'S BED. The characters are strong, the story emotional and full of sizzle and feedback has been great. It's been an experience I want to repeat - not just because it means another Annie West title out there for readers but because I got a real buzz out of writing it. Trying a shorter format was fun and challenging and satisfying as well.
I've still got plenty to learn about writing novellas. I don't claim to be an expert! But, given  the right inspiration, I'm definitely aiming to do more of them.
Do you like novellas? Do you find them a satisfying bite-sized chunk or too short? What do you enjoy about them and what sort of story themes do you enjoy in them?
If you're interested to find out how my first adventure in novella writing went, you can find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Here's a taste:

No woman walks away from billionaire Fabrizio Armati’s bed. No woman except Jenna MacDonald. Now he’ll stop at nothing to get her back, and keep her there.
It’s love at first sight for Jenna when charismatic hotelier Fabrizio Armati sweeps her off her feet in Venice. That chance encounter sparks a sizzling affair that lasts until she discovers Fabrizio sees her as no more than a convenient, expendable mistress. Then her world falls apart.
Six months later Jenna tells herself she’s moved on. Until Fabrizio walks into a meeting to find her working for his greatest rival. She’s about to discover just how far he’ll go to get her back in his bed. When revenge turns to passion, will surrender be on his terms, or hers?

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