Do You Enjoy a Short Story?

RNA anth Nicola here, talking about the joys and challenges of the historical romance novella. Short stories are very much in my mind at the moment because 2010 has so far been the year of the novella for me. It started in February with the publication of a story called The Elopement in the Romantic Novelists' Association Golden Anniversary anthology, Loves Me Loves Me Not. My brief for this was a 5000 word "classic" Regency short story and the editor's note said: "Not too sexy, please. We don't want to frighten anyone.". I'd never written as short as 5000 words and this was a real challenge. I loved going back to the more traditional Regency style that had characterised my early books but I was slightly daunted by the word count.  How to establish two compelling characters and give them a satisfying emotional journey all in 5000 words? Plus conjure up all the wit and sparkle of a classic Regency background? In the end I loved writing The Elopement, in which Amanda, Lady Marston and her estranged husband Hugo set off in pursuit of his eloping grandmother and ended up re-discovering each other in the process. Fortunately the whole anthology had a rapturous welcome with reviews such as "uplifting", "stylish" and "bound to get you hot under the collar" from some of the most prestigious UK women's magazines.

This month I have another novella on the shelves, the first print publication of The Unmasking of LadyWicked Regency Nights-UK Loveless in an anthology called Wicked Regency Nights. This time the brief was "make it as hot and sensual as possible" as this was an anthology from the Harlequin Historicals Undone imprint. Hmm. How to establish two compelling characters and give them a satisfying emotional journey in 8000 words when quite a few of those words would be a very sensual love scene?

I love writing novellas and short stories but I don't find it easy. For me the greatest challenge is building a strong and believable relationship between the hero and heroine in a short space of time. Short stories need a sharper focus. You have to create a vivid world, but in miniature.

I remember when I first started reading short stories. I was in my early teens and the book was called The House of the Nightmare and other eerie tales. (Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of the cover for the blog). I particularly remember a chilling short story by Saki, a tale of a ghostly hand by Elizabeth Bowen, and various terrifying tales supposedly taken from real life. Oh how I enjoyed frightening myself with that book! My taste for ghost stories and the paranormal flowered for several years before I moved on to romance and discovered the short stories of Georgette Heyer. I still Pistols for two have my original copy of Pistols for Two falling apart on my bookshelf. And I still love all those stories. I went back to the book to try and choose a couple of favorites for this blog, ended up reading them all again, and was unable to choose between them. Julian Arden and the charmingly naive Miss Sophia Trent falling in love on a snowy journey to Bath in Snowdrift are splendid. The richest and best connected man in London falling in love with a cit in Pink Domino always makes me smile. Many of the heroes and heroines in this anthology fall in love at first sight or something very close to it and Heyer writes that in a completely convincing fashion. The stories are economical in wordage but conjure up her world as effectively as the longer novels. Many of them also bear out some of the other advice I have had about writing short stories: They should cover a short time span and every word must be made to count.

Since reading Pistols for Two I have had a taste for historical novellas and have read some wonderful Mid-summer-eve-v5 ones. My fellow Wenches are masters of the art of the the short story, of course, and I have also loved stories such as Gretna Greene by Julia Quinn in the Scottish Brides anthology and Fall from Grace by Jill Barnett in A Season in the Highlands. Historical short stories set in Scotland combine two of my favorite things! And recently I was thrilled to discover Elizabeth Hanbury's Regency anthology Midsummer Eve at Rookery End with witty and delightful short stories in the Heyer tradition.

Secrets of a Courtesan UK Next month MIRA launches my Brides of Fortune trilogy in the UK with the publication of The Secrets of a Courtesan, the e-book prequel to the series. This was the short story that almost broke me. I had to scrap the first draft because it didn't work and re-write it completely. As I say, I find writing short stories difficult sometimes!

So how do you feel about short stories? Do you enjoy them? Do you think that they can offer as fulfilling a reading experience as a longer novel? Which are your favorites? To finish this week of giveaways at the Word Wenches I'm offering a copy of Wicked Regency Nights to one commenter.