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Andrew's horror novella, 'The Bathtub', is now available.

Monday, 31 May 2010

In Praise of the Shorter Form

No, this isn’t a piece about my wife who is five foot zero and wonderful!

I’ve always enjoyed writing and reading novels, with the opportunities for sub-plots and characterisation that their length allows.  I’m not so keen on short stories, but I do appreciate the skill in writing something short and sharp that sticks in the reader’s mind.

I’ve always thought of novellas as a compromise between shorts and novels, and like a lot of compromises they often bring out the weaknesses of both rather than the strengths of either.  But I’m beginning to come around to the idea of novellas.  So, what’s changed my mind?

Well, having ‘The Shoot’ published has helped, although as this started off as a part of ‘The Wood’ that got separated I still tend to think of it in the context of being part of Wood than a stand-alone piece.

It’s being part of the Eternal Press family, though, that has really got me reading.  EP published a lot of novellas, and of course I’ve had the chance to taste several pretty good ones.  Seeing some of the techniques used by other writers has been more helpful than reading any number of ‘how to’ guides, and I’ve learned that it is possible to get everything in a novella that you see in a novel; it just has to be done differently.

While anyone wanting to see how to do a novella well could probably pick up an EP release at random, two of their books show off aspects of the shorter form perfectly.

Gianna Bruno’sHot Chocolate Kiss’ is a masterpiece of characterisation.  Keela Branford is a great character anyway: likeable, and both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.  I was really impressed with the way Gianna managed to achieve such a well-rounded heroine in only ten thousand words – many full length novels struggle to deepen a character this well.

Frenzy’ is the other EP release I’ll recommend.  This is a gritty story about eight men who find themselves stranded on a lifeboat in shark-infested seas.  Carole Johnstone has put together a cast of complex characters and the story is about the people themselves as much as their predicament.  Carole weaves both strands together seamlessly in only 28,000 words, but doesn’t leave any loose ends – all this without making the work seem rushed.

So, after reading other Eternal Press authors, I’ve changed my mind about novellas, and maybe I’ll have another one published one day.


  1. Well, thanks for the compliment, Andrew. BTW, I too am 5 foot, one half inch.

    Hot Chocolate Kiss was originally shorter, about 8K when it was first written. I think it needed to be longer to develop Rick and Keela's characterization.

    I wrote a novelette of about 13K that has become a 91,000 word novel-some stories are just meant to be long. All the critiques were I wanted to know more about thus and so, so I wrote more about this and that.

    I started out thinking The Journey would be about 15K-it's topped out at 32K.

    Write now, At Home With Peter and Sandra is a collection of short erotic vignettes linked by the common theme of this couple reinventing their marriage. I suspect it is going to be novella length by the time it's done and the transitions are added.

    Cecilia Tan, the editor of Circlet Press commented in a live chat session at Anticipation that the story will usually tell you when it's finished and the author should listen. I was bemoaning the fact that The Journey was too long for her house, which has a top limit of 10K.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Andrew, and sorry for the late comment!

    I must admit that I used to be quite wary of novellas, purely from a value for money point of view. Why pay up to £3/4 for a novella, when a novel lasts longer and often retails for less than double - never mind postage?

    I've since been converted - mainly because I've since read a lot of them. I've also come to the conclusion that a novella length is often the perfect length in which a story can be told. With, as always, exceptions, I think that an awful lot of novels suffer from interminable padding (generally in the middle), for no other reason that I can ever see, except to bump up the wordage to novel length.

    Novellas are tight, sharp, and rarely let up on the reader. Writing them is a challenge in itself - and a good curb against waffle.

    I've enjoyed a great many novellas recently. Stephen King is the King of them, and writers like Gary Braunbeck and Gary McMahon seems to thrive at this length. I recently came across a Joseph D'Lacey novella called The Kill Crew that I read in one very satisfying afternoon.

    Novellas always leave you wanting more, but you don't get it. That's their strength and I suppose, their weakness. It depends on your point of view, but I know which camp I'm in.