This part week, I read A Cold November Road, a wonderful Civil War-era YA novella by author Debbie Causevic. You can download it (for free!) here.
This gripping romance was not only a page-turner for me as a reader; it also was a great lesson in short fiction for me as a writer, so I wanted to talk with Debbie a little more about her story and her writing process. Welcome, Debbie!
Kip: I’ve been intrigued by novellas for a while, but I haven’t been able to complete one myself. The one I tried ended up needing a full novel. I know you’re also a novelist, so how did you constrain yourself?
Debbie: A Cold November Road is my first novella. Writing full-length novels is definitely more what I am used to doing. I’ve completed five full-length manuscripts, two of which are part of the YA urban fantasy series that resulted in my signing with an agent last fall. In order to start building readership, my agent suggested it would be a good idea to release any short-stories or novellas that I had completed. I didn’t have anything ready at the time so I decided to write one. It took a few months, but it was a fun journey nevertheless.
I wrote the novella much like a novel, only I focused on three specific things while writing it.
- Word count. Knowing that my limit was 40K served as a great reminder as the word count climbed with every scene. It kept me thinking “do I really need to go there or explain that…”
- Moving forward. I was frequently tempted to add scenes to better develop the main characters. However, I asked myself at every new scene, does this actually serve to move the story forward? If the answer was no, then I’d cut the scene regardless of how much my fingers yearned to type it.
- Developing characters through dialogue. Revealing some of the major characters’ pasts and personality traits via dialogue, rather than devoting actual scenes to them, served as a great way to add back story and depth, while being fairly merciful on the overall word count.
Kip: I totally agree on these points. When I wrote my short story for the Pugalicious Press Timeless anthology last year, I was thrilled to write something that took less time, but even though it was short, I found it followed much of the same process: it still had to develop a full plot and character arc, and it still had to go through several rounds of critique and revision, and then more with an editor once it was accepted. Did you find that your process for the novella was also similar to novel-writing? Any big differences?
Debbie: The biggest difference for me in writing this story as a novella is that I was constantly staring at the word count on the screen. 🙂 That and I kept telling myself no, I can’t go there, I don’t have enough words.
A few manuscripts ago—after becoming frustrated that my story was veering too greatly from its original outline—I stopped writing detailed outlines and plots, etc. Now, I pick the main characters’ names and just start writing. Once the MS is approximately halfway through, I write a very basic outline of what I still hope to incorporate before it’s over. Usually I still arrive at the same ending that I envisioned when I started writing. I’m not sure if this would work for most people, but I find it is easier for me to enjoy the writing of the story this way. One caveat is that I never start writing anything until the characters feel like real people in my head. I followed this same process with A Cold November Road as well.
Kip: These are great tips! Now, a little more about this piece in particular. You write urban fantasy, but this piece is historical fiction. Was it something about the story itself that made you switch gears, or did you find that historical lent itself better to something shorter?
Debbie: Truth be told, I love to write across several genres. In addition to The Timebender’s Curse YA urban fantasy series, I have one contemporary YA MS and two contemporary adult ones. Like most writers, at any one time I have a dozen or so stories floating around my head that I’d love to find time to write. A Cold November Road was one of them.
I had the idea for this novella while doing research for The Timebender’s Curse series which features a heroine traveling back in time to the Civil War era in part of the story. While doing research for this, I was moved by what ordinary citizens endured as par for the course during those tumultuous years. And, whenever I am moved by something, a story idea arises… Since novellas typically end in times of change, and the end of A Cold November Road coincides with the end of the war, I felt this story would work well in novella form.
Kip: Having read A Cold November Road, I totally agree that it was the perfect amount of story for a novella. Have you thought about looking for a publisher for this? I know Entangled pubs novellas, but I’m not sure what else the market for novellas looks like. I’d love to hear more!
Debbie: That is certainly a possibility in the future or, depending upon continued feedback from the novella, expanding it into a novel-length MS. It’s off-genre from what my agent is submitting this spring, which I know is a factor for publication. I wrote the novella based on the age-old advice of “write what moves you and build your audience from there”. For now, I’m just releasing it in e-book form and hoping to expand readership. Although the genre is different from my other works, at its core it is a good love story. That is one thing I aim to put in everything I write.
Kip: I definitely agree that a good love story! Fans of historical fiction, take note! And make sure to follow Debbie’s journey on her website and twitter. I predict great things from her in the future.