Novellablog: Keep it Under Two Hundred Pages, Milford.

In Which Kate Frets about Short Fiction and its Perils

A couple of days ago (I’m writing this on Friday, March 23) I finished the first rough, start-to-finish draft of what I’ve been mentally calling The Keeper of Sanctuary. (April 17th Kate here: If you’ve been following my adventures in the last couple of weeks, you know this story as The Kairos Mechanism.)

This is a huge, huge relief.

I started writing this thing on February 25th, and this was the assignment I gave myself: write story. Must be a self-contained adventure that not only helps readers to understand how The Broken Lands relates to The Boneshaker; it must relate to the Natalie trilogy I’m outlining in my (haha) spare time. It must contain no spoilers, although it may contain clues. It must come in under 200 words. Really, though, it ought to come in under 100. Don’t panic.

I went into this with two things worrying me. The first, of course, was raising the money that would be required to publish the thing later. Just as panic-inducing, however, was the idea of writing a novella. Meaning (theoretically) something shorter than a novel. And I have trouble keeping my novels down to a manageable length.

This is not because I think a book ought to clock in at a minimum of 300 pages. I think a book should be as long as it needs to be, and I think that length is generally somewhat less than what the writer thinks, which is why I thank God I have a brilliant critique group to whip me into shape even before a manuscript goes to my equally brilliant editor.

My problem is that once I get going with an idea, I tend to let that idea become complicated. Last year I told my husband I was going to write a short, simple book over the summer, something under 200 pages. He laughed and told me to my face that he didn’t think I could do it. And guess what? Let’s just say…I struggled.

Dramatization of what Nathan does whenever I say I'm going to write something short.

This time, well…by the time I had this idea and had written enough of it to be pretty sure I could finish it, I had boxed myself into a place where if I was going to go through with this novella project, I had to immediately start putting the pieces in place, even if I was far from certain about the end of the novella. I had to start sending emails and making phone calls to line up the friends and colleagues who would lend their voices and their time to the project. If I was going to call in those reserves, I couldn’t ask for their help and then not deliver a story of the right length when it was time for me to produce it. Which, conservatively, gave me a month in which to have a finished draft. It could be rough, but it had to be readable.

And it had to remain short. The SFWA’s definition of a novella is handy enough, and it gives an upper word count limit of 40,000 words. That translates to something in the vicinity of 140 pages.

I have never written a novella. What I should have done was talk to some of the brilliant writers I’ve met in the last few years who do write them, and beg for some guidance or (even better) an inoculation against pages 150 and up. But there wasn’t time. What I did in the end was come up with a three-part strategy, and (cautiously) it seems to have worked. More about that on Thursday.

Today, before the tough editing starts, it runs a lean 108 pages. I expect it to balloon up to about 120, then shrink back down to right about 110. Just for kicks, I’ll take a copy and dice it up fine and try and bring it down to 99, just to see if I can (when my husband reads that part, he will stop reading and laugh until he cries).

Laugh it up, Nathan. I did it in less than 200 pages, and in less than a month. No matter what happens next, I win.

(April 17th Kate here again to make sure March 23rd Kate mentions where you can help with April 17th Kate’s major concern: go here, learn more, become a backer if you choose, spread the word if you don’t mind. Thanks!)

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *