Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Writing Novellas by Sally MacKenzie

An Invitation to Sin
Publisher: Kensington Zebra

Pub date: February 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

My second novella, “The Naked Prince,” releases today. I’m excited to be in an anthology headlined by New York Times bestseller and romance icon Jo Beverley. I’m hoping her fans—and those of the other authors, Vanessa Kelly and Kaitlin O’Riley—will enjoy my story, too, and be motivated to seek out my backlist—and to snap up my next book, The Naked King, when it comes out in June. And I’m happy to have another release out in the world, especially since I write only one book a year.

Wait a minute! Only one book a year, you say? Isn’t that sacrilege in romance land? If I can’t write two—or three—books a year, of course I should be knocking out a novella. Writing a shorter story—my novellas are 25,000 to 30,000 words, about a quarter the length of my novels—should be a snap, right?

Not exactly, at least not for me. Some writers are bristling with ideas and can write wonderful stories quickly and consistently. Sadly, I am not one of them. I agonize over every word, often to a fault. And short definitely doesn’t mean easy, IMHO. I find it quite a challenge to create three-dimensional characters, a coherent plot, humor, and a believable happily-ever-after ending in a style my core readers expect in only 100 rather than 400 manuscript pages.

How do I write a novella? My first step is choosing a suitable plot and main characters. The plot can’t be very convoluted, and the characters can’t have an elaborate backstory—or at least a backstory I feel compelled to explore in depth. Actually, I discover my novella heroes and heroines in my novels. I didn’t know Lord and Lady Kenderly’s story when they appeared in the The Naked King, but I knew they were going to be the stars of “The Naked Prince.” (This was a bit tricky, as I wrote the King first and then had to go back on copyedits and revise the novel to make it consistent with the “Prince.” Time is often a little out of sync in publishing.)

Once I have my characters and plot, I try a variety of things, probably concepts familiar to you, to tell a complete story in a relatively small amount of space. I’ve limited the setting—“The Naked Prince” happens on one country estate. I’ve limited the story’s duration—the "Prince" takes place over a couple of days. I still have a fair number of secondary characters, but I don’t spend as much time with them as I would in a novel, and I limit point of view to only the hero’s and the heroine’s. If I have any subplots, they are minor. As I say, my novellas and novels are all loosely connected; this is fun for me—and I hope fun for my readers as well—but I have to constantly guard against getting carried away with that, especially in a novella. There just isn’t room for extraneous stuff.

But no matter how long or short the tale, I want to leave my readers sighing and smiling and wishing the story wasn’t over when they reach the last page. I want to make them happy—and, of course, I want them eagerly coming back for more!

USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie writes funny, hot Regency-set historicals for Kensington’s Zebra line, and her books have been translated into Czech, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian. An Invitation to Sin arrives on bookstore shelves today. A native of Washington, D.C., Sally still lives in suburban Maryland with her husband and whichever of her four sons are stopping back in the nest. To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her website at www.sallymackenzie.net.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Sally. I love reading Regency length novellas. Looking forward to adding this book to my bookcase.
Tam :)

Jonathan Eli said...

Very informative post. I have a hard time getting everything into a novella length. I have too many things happening in a story to shorten it up to the acceptable length. My editor, Lauralynn Elliott has no problem writing to that length and has several out there that complete the story for the reader. I keep working on mine. I enjoyed your insite very much, thank you.

Terry McLaughlin said...

Congratulation on your latest release, Sally :-)! I admire anyone who can tell a story in less than novel length.

Sarah Allen said...

Great post, and congratulations :) The experience of other writers is always somehow comforting to me. Thanks for this!

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Congrats! I'm not a romance fan, but I do love the novella. :)

Sally MacKenzie said...

Thanks, Tam, Terry, and Sarah. Jonathan, I do think the novella length requires a less complicated story. Sounds like you need to simplify--or just go write a novel!

Sally MacKenzie said...

Thanks, Fawn. Not only is a novella a different writing experience, it's a bit of a difference reading experience.

Kate Douglas said...

I love reading about another writer's process. When it comes down to it, each one of us has such an individual method for reaching that final page. I'm currently working on a novella that's supposed to launch a new series, so I'm dealing with how much to put in, how much to leave out, how to make it stand alone and how to make readers want more. Whoever says short is easy is nuts!

Kaitlin O'Riley said...

I agree, Sally. Writing a novella is more challenging than a full length novel. "A Summer Love Affair" in AN INVITATION TO SIN was the second novella I'd written. And that didn't make it any easier. (Although, once it's written, it's sooo much easier to proofread than a full length manuscript!! It's like taking a vacation!)

Sally MacKenzie said...

LOL, Kaitlin. I seem to be cursed when it comes to novella copy edits--somehow I end up getting very little time to go over them. I think I only had 6 hours on my first novella! So, yes, I'm very glad they're shorter at the production phase.