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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Blog: Francesca Hawley: The Long and Short of It

When I started writing, I wrote long. Very long. My first two releases from Ellora’s Cave Publishing topped 100,000 words. So obviously, I’m more comfortable writing novels. But those releases took me about a year to write…a piece. Of course, I work full time and can only write in the evenings and on weekends so that means I probably write slower than other writers who have the opportunity to write full time. But the fact remains, it takes me quite a while to write a long novel.

When I realized that, I decided that I should consider writing novellas. Novellas are much shorter. Surely, I can write them faster and manage to have more releases out for my readers. It couldn’t be that tough to write a novella, could it? It’s just like writing a novel only shorter. Right? But what I learned was that writing a novella requires a different set of skills to make a satisfying story and it takes practice. Long, hard practice.

Now that I’ve written a couple of novellas, I’ve discovered what a challenge it is and I have a great deal of respect for my fellow authors who write short regularly. To write short successfully, a writer needs to keep the word count in mind…all the time. Stories should be simpler, but everything that appears in any other length story needs to also be in a novella. The story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be strong characterization and a clear plot.

What I have learned is that to write short, the story needs to be distilled to its essence while retaining an interesting plot, fast pacing, and intriguing characters. And all of that needs to be done in less than 30,000 words. Ouch. That’s tough. But it can be done. And many writers do it very well.

Number one—follow the KISS method of writing. Keep It Simple, Sister! It’s like making a bush into a topiary. It requires careful pruning. Dump all the intricate subplots and secondary characters who don’t have a role in moving the story forward. Instead of flowery descriptions of verdant fields waving in the breeze, the writer needs to decide if the field is even relevant. If not—gone. Dump the backstory unless it is specifically important to making a plot point. Make something important happen on page one. Setup is for sissies…get to the story. Now. Right now.

All of this was tough for me to learn. I really like describing stuff. I like spending lots of time in my characters’ heads. But if those mental discussions are unnecessary, they need to go. I love writing a bunch of setup. I even like…horrors…prologues. Nope. Gotta get rid of them.

Writing novellas has been a really good experience for me. It’s taught me more about honing a story. I’ve learned how to determine what’s really important. What needs to be included and what’s a luxury. When I have the room to describe the verdant fields, I can do that. But I’ve learned how to trim that stuff out.

I still struggle…a lot. In fact, with Controlling Interest I can most humbly state that if not for my critique partner, Paris Brandon the story wouldn’t have gotten finished. You see, even with trying to keep an eye on my word count, I ended up 5000 words over the 30,000 word limit. Paris helped me figure out how to prune a bush into a topiary. A very hot topiary. Thank you, my dear. You are the awesomest!

Let me throw a few questions out there.

Fellow authors, do you write short? What are your reasons for writing short? Do you have tips for those of us trying to improve our skills for writing novellas?

Readers—do you enjoy novellas? What complaints do you have? What do you love in a novella?

Hi. I’m Francesca Hawley and I’m a fat chick. A woman with dangerous curves just like my heroines. Many people don’t like the word, “fat” but I do because it’s the truth and I’ve learned to own it. I am a fat chick and I always will be.

When I began writing, I wanted to create a fat heroine who loved herself—or at least learned to love herself—and a hot alpha hero who liked her jiggly bits just the way they were. Since I didn’t find many big girls to read about, I decided to write about them myself. After all, I loved to write and had been writing almost as long as I’d been reading, so Francesca Hawley, author of "Romance with Dangerous Curves", was born.

In a Francesca Hawley romance, my readers will find authentic, sensual, fat heroines who love and are loved by their intense, passionate and seductive Alpha heroes. I hope you enjoy their dangerous curves just as much as their hunky heroes do.

Mozelle “Mouse” Vincent inherits money, a club and her boss’ son as a business partner when society leader Regine Stuart dies. Torin Stuart knows what his late mother’s wishes were for his exclusive BDSM club, Erotically Bound, but he’s pissed that he’s forced to trust Mouse—especially when her inherently submissive nature arouses the sexual Dominant in him.

After baring all in a heated, intense scene, Mouse realizes they still have to work together, but now Tor challenges any business suggestion she makes. When she wants to offer education classes, Tor dares her to organize the class and participate—as a submissive.

To his chagrin, Mouse agrees, but he can’t stand the thought of any other Dom touching her. Suddenly there’s far more at stake than the controlling interest in their club…because love is the ultimate prize in their power exchange.


Katalina Leon said...

Hi Francesca, I loved this post! You make so many great points.
I find writing novella's very challenging. They are a complex art form that requires a separate toolkit from a novel. I grew up loving short stories from master storytellers like Ray Bradbury. It makes me sad to hear people dismiss short stories and novellas as less-than. A novella can be little jewel you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Paris said...

Francesca, thanks for the lovely nod:) I love writing novellas because of the challenge. The back story has to be evident by showing it in the way your characters behave in any given situation so that their character growth is believable. I do love writing them but I also love reading them. Like Kat said, they can be little jewels you'll remember.

Molly Daniels said...

I've discovered I'm comfortable writing stories in the 30-40K count. I tried to write a 15K, but the plot seemed rushed. Added another thousand words and it was accepted.

To date, the only longer thing I've written seems to be taking on the 'Epic Novel' status, and I don't know when I'll be finished with it. Once I am, I predict a lot of cutting is in the works:)

I did NaNo in 2007 and completed it just over the 50K mark, but whittled it back down to just over 40K. The thing tried to end itself three times before I made it to the word count, and even my editor agrees.

Rebecca Murray said...

Mmm, I think my computer screen got a little melty around the edges from that blurb! Great blog!

Francesca Hawley said...

Katalina - Novella writing is a definite challenge. It's been humbling to work on novellas, but really good for me as a writer.

Paris - I've learned a lot from you about how to write novellas. Thanks!

Molly - I think writing at a length you're comfortable with is a very good thing. Your shorter works sound great and good luck with your "Epic Novel."

Rebecca - hope your computer screen is still operational. ;-) But yes, Controlling Interest is definitely a HOT story.

Cara Marsi said...

Hi, Francesca,

You give some very good advice on writing short. An interesting blog. I have a hard time writing long stories. I love writing short stories and novellas. I've sold over 10 short stories to the confession magazines-True Love, True Romance, etc-in the past year. I tried my hand at writing a novella about a year ago and sold that story to The Wild Rose Press. I've just finished another novella and I'm working on another short story. I've got novels out there, but it was torture writing so many words. I think I'm going to give up novel writing altogether and concentrate on short stories and novellas. I get more instant gratification from the shorter stories and I'm fine just focusing on the h/h and not having a lot of secondary characters or subplots. Thanks for the question.

Renee Vincent said...

Loved this: Number one—follow the KISS method of writing. Keep It Simple, Sister!

And I'm like you....I have a difficult time writing short. My upcoming April contemporary release was only supposed to be a novella ebook, but i wrote enough words to make it also available in print. Wasn't my intention, but I'm still glad for it cause I love the cover and premise of this book!

Good luck to you in writing both long and short stories that readers will love regardless of the word count!

Marianne Stephens said...

I always seem to end up around 50,000 words. I stretched one book to over 60,000, but nothing came under 46,000.
I can't find enough to say over what apparently is my "creative" limit.
On the other hand, I found writing a short story or 4,500 - 5,000 words easy to do...and I enjoyed it!
Everyone has to write what they feel most comfortable doing.

Francesca Hawley said...

Cara - I really believe people should go with their strengths. If you're happier writing short, then go for it! Congrats on all the sales.

Renee - I can totally relate to trying for a shorter word count and then going over. Happens to me all the time. :-) Congrats on the upcoming new release!

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

I do write everything from 7K-100K, but yeah, each length takes a different focus. I actually find writing a short or three between the longer novels helps keep me fresh.

Great post!

Maggie Rivers said...

Francesca, as usual, you have very good advice. I usually write around 50-60,000 words although some of my stories have been shorter. For me, I guess it depends on the story in my mind. However, I find myself trying to stretch it out more if it falls into the shorter category. Maybe I should just leave those shorter stories short! Thanks for the information.

Jordyn Meryl said...

Thanks Francesca. I write short, and was finding I was adding scenes that were not moving my story forward, just to up the word count. I want to focus on Novellas. I want to write a good story, not just a long one. You have inspired me. Thank You.

Deanne Williams said...

Francesca, I have printed out KISS on a post it and stuck it in front of my face. Great post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on the subject.

Birdie Hawks said...

Francesca - Thanks for the wonderful information. Thanks for giving me the whereforal to persue a novella. Birdie

JL Walters said...

Great post. It takes me almost as long to write a novella as it does to write a 60.000 novel. Like you writing short is hard. Good luck. Maybe it gets easier the more you write

Sandy said...

A very interesting post, Francesca. I have trouble writing short, too. I can't write humor either, but I'm trying to do both. lol

I'm wrote a short story that will be placed with some others for a April 1st anthology. I just finished my first round edits. It's not funny, but it's short. lol I hated it the whole time I wrote ite, so I'm really anxious to see how it's received.

I think the premise of your story sounds great.

Francesca Hawley said...

Marianne - I can't imagine writing something 5-6K. I take my hat off to you. :-)

Cindy - what a great idea. Use the shorts as kind of a "palate cleanser". Keeps you in practice, but lets you feel like you've gotten a lot accomplished.

Maggie - if you can add meaningful scenes to make a story longer, then that's great. But shorter stories sell well too.

Jordyn - sounds like you have a strong ability to create a short, fast paced story. What a great strength to have!

Francesca Hawley said...

Deanne - KISS is a great thing to keep in mind when you're writing novellas. It's all about the H/H so the simpler the better. Keep writing!

Birdie - give it a try. You might find it's a great vehicle for your writing. Good Luck!

JL - I sure hope it gets easier to write short the more you do it. Otherwise, I won't have any hair left cause I tend to pull it all out as I approach the upper limit word count.

Sandy - congrats on the April 1 anthology. The story must be pretty darn good or it wouldn't have been included in the anthology. Good luck! I hope you get great reviews and readers love it!

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