Or, The seductive allure of novellas for a young writer.
As I have mentioned before, the first few pieces I am going to be epublishing are novellas rather than novels. For the curious, a novella is generally considered to be between 17,000 and 40,000 words, with anything longer than 40,000 being a novel. To give some idea of relative lengths, a typical 300-page paperback is going to be in the 80-90K range; a Harlequin type series novel is going to be in the 50-60K range; a Twilight is going to be in the 130K range; a (modern) Stephen King is going to be in the 200K range.
I picked up writing novellas after flailing (no, not a typo of “failing,” although the argument could be made…) with several attempted novels. My problem was twofold; I would start writing as soon as I had an idea and not always with a particularly clear direction in mind, and I could never finish anything.
The writing before I knew with conviction where I was going led to a lot of re-writing or starting over again from scratch when the story or character substantively changed. From those re-starts I learned that I am an outliner, and that outlining does not make my story any less “organic” or any more “contrived” than someone who writes off the cuff–I simply have to have done all of the sifting through possible paths and eliminating of all possibilities but the end result in advance. My incubation period is quite organic in terms of letting my characters play out different scenarios until we find the one most true to their hearts and minds; it is only my writing period that is not.
The never finishing was just as problematic. I saw my word counts climbing into the 20,000 and 30,000 ranges only to be brutally redacted to the “false starts” folder on my hardrive and replaced. In at least one case, I did this three separate times with the same story–enough that, if I had stuck with the direction I started with in the first place, I’d have finished a novel for the same time and work instead of being left with three starts, none of which proved to be salvageable. It’s discouraging to put that much of one’s limited resources (in this case spare time and mental energy to attempt to create on the side of being a full-time student with two PT jobs, and then a full-time adult with bills to pay and a household to run) into something that is never finished. I needed a way to be able to get the satisfaction of finishing, while still writing stories in the style I enjoy–the expansive detail of long-form and not the spare suggestion of truly short stories.
Novellas are the happy medium. They have room for a proper story of courtship and love, and sometimes even sex–there’s just no need to fill up the extra 20,000 words needed to take it from Harlequin Regency series to an Avon Paperback with intrigue or needless drama after the hero and heroine come to the point the first time.
They are also eminently finishable for a writer who has trouble staying focused long enough to complete a novel. I can write a novella in a (good) month’s worth of evenings and weekends–a good month being one where I spend at least a couple hours a couple nights a week, and all of one weekend day every weekend writing, and writing well. Six weeks to two months of poor writing.
For me writing well is numbers; I am not a big rewriter when it comes to line-by-line editing, because I tend to self-correct as I work and because I have a fairly smooth narrative line in my basic verbiage. So a “good” weekend day would be 4,000 words, a “good” evening 1200-2000. Bad would be, say, 800-1000 words for a four-hour stint, 300 for an hour or two. When you’re talking stories on a scale of 30,000 words, it’s not that hard to achive in a month–theoretically, at least. Finishing things breeds enthusiasm for writing more things. And for me, changing stories every month or six weeks helps keep my interest in each story up; they don’t have time to become too familiar to me and therefore boring to work on, which also helps me keep working until I finish them.
All of this is not to say that I am not still working on novels; I am. The goal is to build up to writing novels, and by then have a large enough audience that I can produce fewer items but larger, and hopefully even more satisfying, ones. I can feel my novellas getting longer every time. My ideas grow just a bit bigger, and my capacity to keep working just a little bit longer on the same story does each time, as well. But the difference between 23,000 words and 33,000 is still vastly smaller than the difference between 40,000 and 50,000, for all that it appears to be the same number of units. At least from where I’m standing now. Perhaps later I will see the extra words as a chance to be verbose, to be less careful in making the most of each sentence and each paragraph, each soulful stare and heated caress.
But for now, novellas are my saving grace as a writer. They enable me to call myself a writer instead of just a wannabe. They let me feel like I’m accomplishing something. And all because with novellas, I can actually get to those magical words: The End.