Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Creative Beginnings by Alison Henderson

I’m stoked! May is Creative Beginnings month, so it’s only appropriate that I’d be embarking on a new creative venture. On May 1st, I received a contract for a new historical novella, The Treasure of Como Bluff. This story is a first for me in two ways. Number one: It’s the first piece of “new” writing I’ve sold. My first two books were originally written many years ago, so it’s reassuring to know I haven’t completely lost the touch. Number two: It was my first venture into writing a novella length story. Because several writers have expressed an interest in trying out this format, I thought I’d share my observations and experience.

When you’re used to writing 90K word novels, telling a complete story in 24K words is a challenge. At first, the rhythm didn’t come naturally to me. I had to stop and think about the structure far more often than I usually do. One technique I used to help with pacing was to shorten my usual 20 page chapters to 10 pages. For me, that helped moved the story along.

My long novels generally take place across several months, but for the novella, I compressed the time period to a couple of weeks so I wouldn’t have to scrimp on the number or quality of scenes. The abbreviated time frame also affected the progression of the romance. This is the first story I’ve written without a consummated love scene because I wanted the relationship to develop in a believable way within the context of the novella format.

Also, I sacrificed description, exposition and internal narrative in favor of dialogue. My books are always dialogue-heavy, but after the first chapter (when the hero is unconscious), this story is at least 75% dialogue. In some ways, it was more like writing a screenplay than a novel, but it forced me to let the characters drive the story. I’m happy to say they pulled out a few surprises and did a terrific job!

Here’s the blurb for The Treasure of Como Bluff:

In a race against rival bone hunters, the last complication paleontologist Caroline Hubbard needs is a dead man with a love letter in his pocket cluttering up her dig site. Her troubles multiply when she discovers the “deceased” stranger is still very much alive. He might have the chiseled features and impressive physique of a classical statue, but she’s not about to let him hamper her quest to unearth a new species of dinosaur and make her mark on the scientific world.

Nicholas Bancroft has come to Wyoming in search of silver, but after a blow to the head, he finds himself at the mercy of a prickly, determined female scientist. Despite his insistence that he’s just passing through, Caroline persuades him to help her stage an elaborate charade to save her job—a charade which casts Nick in the role of her husband.

Once the masquerade plays out, they face a big decision. Will they be able to look beyond their separate goals and see the true treasure right in front of them?

Alison Henderson


Vonnie Davis said...

Writing short does involve a different set of writing criteria. Looks like you handled them well and adapted them to suit your own writing style.

Alison H. said...

Hi, Vonnie. You've written both lengths, too, so I know you understand the challenges. At first, writing short gave me fits, but the story turned out well. I'm back working on a full length novel now, and it feels luxuriously undisciplined.

Jannine Gallant said...

This story sounds great! I also write both long and shorts, and I actually love the short format as I'm a "get to the point" sort of person. In several (but not all) of my shorts, I gave the h&h a shared past. It allowed me to develop their relationship faster than if they were just meeting.

Alison H. said...

Jannine, I agree the shared past helps move things along more quickly, and I might try that for future stories.

Beth Trissel said...

I've also transitioned from writing mostly long novels to focusing more on the novella length. Your story sounds really interesting. And different.

Jody Vitek said...

Sounds like another great historical, Alison! I always love to hear how other writer's write or process their writing. You sound as though you've figured things out to write the novella.

Alison H. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jody. This story was really fun to write. It's lighter and more humorous than my first two historicals.

Barbara Edwards said...

I'm working on a short and run into the same problems. It's hard to focus and keep it sharp. Your story sounds great.

Calisa Rhose said...

Writing short is a challenge when you're used to having all the room in the world to play, Alison. I had to shorten my normal 12-15 page chapters too. But it's worth it in the end. Nice post and your story sounds fun!

Mackenzie Crowne said...

Fun premise, and what a timely post, as I'm trying to work up the courage to try a short. I haven't quite gotten there yet, and so I'm skulking about snatching up all the tips I can find.

Some good ones here.

Thanks for sharing, Alison.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Allison,
Sounds like you have mastered the novella technique. Love the premise of your story.