Andrea/Cara here, As we here in the U. S. head into the LONG holiday weekend signaling the end of lazy summer reading and recreation, I thought I’d muse a little on the SHORT of things . . . as in the craft of writing. I'm releasing the latest addition to my Lady Arianna series on Monday, September 4th, and it’s not only a new book but also a new form of writing for me.
The Stolen Letters (you can read an excerpt here) is a novella, something I’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve penned short pieces for anthologies—including two for the Word Wenches Christmas anthologies! But I’ve never tackled a stand-alone short-form book, which is more than an expanded short story and less than a full novel. Here's a quick synopsis:
With the hunt for a diabolical traitor finally over, Lady Arianna is looking for some peace and quiet in which to resolve lingering tensions with her husband over her daredevil exploits during the final chase. But an unexpected late night visit from The Dragon—Saybrook’s feisty and independent great aunt—puts her in the middle of a very difficult dilemma . . .
Constantina confesses that some very private personal letters, along with some sensitive diplomatic documents, have been stolen from her French paramour. She’s desperately hoping Arianna can help get them back, but says it must be discreetly and without anyone knowing—including Saybook.
Yes or No? The task is made even more daunting when Arianna discovers that the political intrigue may entangle her with some dangerous old enemies . . .
Ah, but Arianna can’t resist a challenge, and when she learns that a diplomatic party will provide the perfect opportunity to steal the documents back, she and Constantina, along with their friend Sophia Kirtland, quickly devise a plan to prove the ladies can best the gentlemen at their own devious games . . .
So, seeing as a novella is neither fish nor fowl, you may be wondering why I decided to do it. A good question—and one that I asked myself! The idea intrigued me after reading several novellas within other series I like. The form gives a fun way to “flesh” out the main characters in a series—and also to let some of the secondary ones to step into the limelight for a short interlude. A short adventure or conundrum to solve can add depth and complexity to the various relationships and make then come even more alive.(Lady Arianna's nemesis is Lord Grentham, the cold-blooded British minister in charge of state security. I imagine him to look like Daniel Craig . . .because, um, it's rather nice to look at pictures of Daniel Craig pinned to your story board!)
I was also intrigued by the challenges of a novella. It has to be more of a complete story rather than a vignette, which more intricate plotting. And yet it’s short enough to be done a lot quicker than a book. All those things were also appealing.
But I’ll admit, I had an even more elemental motive. I don’t read many “craft” books, however on the recommendation of another author pal, I’ve recently been reading a book called Stealing Hollywood—Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. I’m finding it fascinating! The author talks about the traditions of storytelling, and how, from the ancient Greeks onward, there’s a basic structure that endured for centuries: three acts, eight scenes. Her humorous bare-bones explanation of it is: put the protagonist up a tree, throw rocks at him/her, then get him/her down. (There’s a lot of pithy humor in the book, which I really enjoy.) It then goes on in elaborate detail to explain the various parts within the basic structure . . .
As a total pantser, I found myself thinking . . . Oh! Imagine if one actually thinks all these elements through ahead of time and makes an outline. Hmm—that might actually make writing a book . . . um . . . easier to write. (Yes, picture one of those stick drawings from a Neanderthal’s cave—me, with a light bulb flashing on over my head.)
The novella seemed a perfect form in which to try out this revolutionary new concept of PLOTTING! So out came my pen and paper . . . albeit reluctantly, as I’ve always thought my brain simply doesn’t function that way. I created my grid, I noodled rough sketches of scenes, deciding where the scene climaxes should come, where the midpoint (or “All is Lost” moment) should be.
I thought I would hate it. I didn’t. I won’t say it was easy, and I can’t promise that I’ll be able to plot a full mystery novel this way, as the twists within twists usually pop into my head when I least expect them to. (This happens a lot on my evening golf course walks. There must be something about my hitting an object with a stick that frightens the Muse into cooperating!) But that said, I think I did learn a lot from the exercise and will try to apply some of those lessons to the next full-length book.
Now, what about you as readers? Do you enjoy novellas? Do they enrich a series you like because they add more nuances of character development? Or do you find them too short for your reading taste. Please share your thought! I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of The Stolen Letters to one winner chosen at random from those who leave a comment here between now and Monday.