The Challenges of Writing a Novella
I’d finished four novel-length manuscripts (three of which are now published) before I ever attempted a novella. Novels are my imagination’s natural groove—when I think of a story idea, the time frame, character development, and level of conflict just seem to fit 80,000-100,000 words.
Despite that, I decided to teach myself to write novellas. Since I have a nagging shoulder injury that keeps me from being the fastest writer ever, I wanted the option of being able to produce shorter works to intersperse with my novels and, hopefully, keep my readers from having to wait too long for their next Susanna Fraser fix!
Unfortunately my first few attempts at the shorter length fell flat—so flat that I never even completed them or submitted them to an editor. Looking back, my problem was that the ideas I attempted weren’t so much naturally suited to the shorter length as they were full-length novel ideas I wasn’t quite 9 months of my life and 90,000 words worth of interested in. Once I realized what I was doing, my reason for failure was blindingly obvious. I had to find ideas I loved that belonged in a novella format.
At its heart, the job of a romance story of any length is to convince the reader of the happy ending. No matter the internal conflict and external barriers keeping the hero and heroine apart on page one—and there had better be some significant conflict there, or the story will fall flat—by the time the reader reaches the last page she has to believe these people are meant for each other, and that all of those conflicts have either been resolved or rendered insignificant by the strength of their love.
It’s much easier to do that in 90,000 words than in 15,000. The characters have six times the space to defeat their inner demons and face down whatever enemies stand between their happiness. They have chapters and chapters more to show their chemistry through witty dialogue, hot sex, or both.
After looking at novellas that worked for me as a reader, I realized that almost all of them started with a hero and heroine who already had a history together, and that the conflict keeping them apart was relatively straightforward—not slight, because then you don’t have a story, but simple enough to solve in a shorter page count.
Based on that insight, I’ve now completed and sold three novellas—two that are already out, and another for Christmas 2014. The first, A Dream Defiant, is a marriage of convenience story with two friends forced to marry quickly and build a love from there. And my Christmas 2014 story is a reunion romance about a star-crossed pair torn apart as young lovers who meet again just a week before the heroine’s planned wedding to another man.
In Christmas Past, my story in The Twelve Days of Christmas Past anthology, the hero and heroine don’t have a long history with each other. Sydney, the heroine, is a PhD student from 2013 who’s only been back in 1810 for a few weeks on a research assignment. Despite rules that dictate she should avoid getting too close to the locals, she’s been flirting with handsome soldier Miles. When her time machine breaks, stranding her in the past, and he discovers her secret, he has to convince her to make her home in the past with him rather than sacrificing herself to protect the timeline. The story covers less than 24 hours, and it’s a snapshot of two people deciding to act on their attraction, with the ending a Happily For Now (with strong likelihood that they’ll choose a Happily Ever After down the road).
As challenging as novellas are, I’m going to keep writing them. At the moment I’m working on a full-length novel and enjoying stretching out into my longer word count and writing a BIG story…but I’m also looking at the hero’s younger sister and thinking about the novella I could write for her next.
The Twelve Days of Christmas Past: An anthology of four historical novellas
Genre: Historical Romance
The Countess's Groom
by Emily Larkin
Rose, the Countess Malmstoke, is trapped in a marriage from hell. Escape seems impossible—until her horse groom Will Fenmore offers to help her find a way out.
Will has loved Rose since she was brought to Creed Hall as a new bride, but their relationship has only ever been that of mistress and servant. Born worlds apart, Will knows he could never be her husband, but maybe he can be her salvation.
As they plan her escape to the American colonies, Rose learns to trust Will with her life and her heart, but trusting him with her body is another matter. Can she conquer her fear of the marriage bed? Is the future she dreams of—being Will’s wife—possible?
by Susanna Fraser
Time-traveling PhD student Sydney Dahlquist’s first mission sounded simple enough—spend two weeks in December 1810 collecting blood samples from the sick and wounded of Wellington’s army, then go home to modern-day Seattle and Christmas with her family. But when her time machine breaks, stranding her in the past, she must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect the timeline or to build a new life—and embrace a new love—two centuries before her time.
Rifle captain Miles Griffin has been fascinated by the tall, beautiful “Mrs. Sydney” from the day he met her caring for wounded soldiers. When he stumbles upon her time travel secret on Christmas Eve, he vows to do whatever it takes to seduce her into making her home in his present—by his side.
The Blacksmith’s Son
By Rebecca Thomas
Captain Quentin Drake returns home after his Naval commission ends to find a young groom being beaten in the village stables. Weary from his travels, he only wants a good night's sleep, but refuses to turn a blind eye to the lad's mistreatment. He intervenes, taking the lad to his room, only to discover the boy...is a woman.
After Ally Lockwood witnesses an earl murdering another man, she’s in fear for her life. She flees his estate and masquerades as a boy while assisting the local blacksmith. Her ruse is up when a handsome stranger tending to her wounds disrobes her. Involvement with the Captain lures Ally into believing she can return to life as a woman, but it may also draw the killer back on her trail.
The Earl’s Christmas Colt
By Rebecca Thomas
Lady Arabella Sutton is stunned to learn her brother has betrothed her to a stranger despite his promises for a season in London. Although she is the first to admit no man would suit, since she’s more interested in horses than marriage, the last thing she wants is to become a brood mare to a stuffy old earl. Facing a future she cannot abide, she takes an impetuous ride to clear her head and ends up tending her injured mare instead.
Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, can’t believe his luck when he stops at an inn the night before he’s to meet his fiancée. In the stable, while tending the colt he intends to give to his future wife, he happens upon her—rain-drenched but beautiful. She assumes he’s a stable hand, a fine joke he means to end...until Lady Arabella declares all noblemen are egotistical, conceited, and arrogant. How can he reveal his true identity before he’s managed to change her mind and win her heart?