Gail Gaymer Martin
May has opened our eyes to the beautiful of creation—flowers peaking above the ground, trees leaving and sprouting blossoms. Earth’s beauty abounds and we look forward to summer, the time of vacations and outdoor living. One thing many of us love to do in summer is sit in the shade on our porches or beneath a tree and read.
Many people like shorter readers so today I’m talking about novellas, full-length stories but in a shorter format.
Romantic historical and contemporary novellas are popular among readers. They are short novels, running from 20,000 to 40,000 words, yet are complete stories of two people struggling through conflicts to reach a romantic happy ending. These shorter reads are usually placed into anthologies that are thematically based on holidays, location, pleasurable interests—camping, chocolate, sewing, quilting, etc— and are enjoyed by people who dislike putting down a novel, but who have time restraints. A novella meets their need for a good book that can be read in a shorter time period.
How do novellas differ from novels?
Some of the major differences in novellas are:
• The hero and heroine often have some connection from the past—old friends, childhood playmates or who have heard about the other through friend or family.
• The plot line limits subplots to none or a minor subplot that enhances the relationship between the hero and heroine.
• The setting descriptions are mainly used to create a sense of place or to reflect the mood or emotion of the hero or heroine.
• The novella covers a shorter period of time than a novel, often no more than a month or two.
The story does not necessarily lead to a proposal or wedding, but allows the reader to assume that as time passes the couple will make a life time commitment.
Connection between the hero and heroine
Because a romance moves through three stages of romantic feelings—awareness, interest, and attraction—a novella does not allow the time to explore these three stages fully. Having a past connection between the hero and heroine allows the relationship to develop in a speedy yet believable manner.
In “To Keep Me Warm,” Ken Richmond runs into Julie Gardner at a church singles group and recognizes her as a nurse from his son’s orthopedic surgeon’s office. “An Open Door” takes Steffi Rosetti to Milan for a fashion magazine feature where she meets, Paul DiAngelo, a newly employed photographer who works for the same magazine.
In “Better to See You,” based on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, Lucy Blake enters a wood-crafting shop in Oberammergau, Germany and finds an old friend.
Ahead of her, she saw a young man bent over a piece of wood. Excited, she hurried toward him never having seen a real woodcarver. But as she drew nearer, she a shiver of familiarity rose up her arms and down her spine. Ron? The similarity between this man and her college steady took her breath away. Ron Woodson. How long had it been? Six, maybe seven years. Standing a few feet away, her eyes didn’t leave him as a tender sadness washed over her remembering their parting.
“All Good Gifts” in a LI duet book title The Harvest, Jill Roddy meets Ryan Walsh in a dark wooded setting and realizes they’ve met before.
“You and I have met before. I don’t suppose you remember.” He shifted the flashlight to the left hand and extended his right. “I’m Ryan Walsh.”
“Ryan?” She accepted his handshake, allowing her memory to take her back to a sun-filled afternoon. “Yes, I remember. I’m Tess Britton.” She searched his face, recalling the vague familiarity but wondering about the change. “But you look so different.”
“I had a beard then. Plus a few extra pounds.”
“Is that it?” His amiable smile sent warmth humming along Tess’s limbs.
Whether old friends, ended relationships or familiarity through relatives, friends or coworkers, the hero and heroine’s relationship is more appealing and realistic when using these techniques.
Subplots in novellas
The storyline in a novella must remain focused on the relationship of the hero and heroine unless the subplot is a minor element and serves a direct purpose to the outcome of the hero and heroine’s relationship. In “To Keep Me Warm,” Ken’s son needs leg surgery. Through the child’s illness, the hero and heroine meet and create a common bond between them. In “Yuletide Treasure” the subplot involves a wooden heart-shaped box that becomes the catalyst to help Livy understand God’s meaning of love and His timing. These subplots are short and significant because they affect the characters relationship or help to emphasis the story’s theme.
Setting’s Purpose in a Novella
All readers want a sense of place. They expect to know where they are and the time of year. This information can be provided in simple ways with limited word count. In Yuletide Treasure, the time of year and story location is made evident in the opening paragraph and sets the time period as historical. An example:
A cloud of black smoke curled past the window of the Chesapeake and Ohio locomotive. As the shrill whistle sounded, Livy Schuler snuggled deeper into her travel cloak and studied the changing winter scenery. The trip from Detroit stretched into hours with stops for passengers and when an occasional cow wandered onto the tracks. She had amused Davy with toy soldiers and story books. “Next stop, Grand Rapids,” the conductor called, moving down the aisle.
Here’s an example from “All Good Gifts,” where description sets the tone for the opening scene.
Tess Britton lowered the poker and listened while her free hand pressed against her heart. Was the sound her own throbbing pulse or something else…something outside?
She listened again.
A shiver coursed through her. She moved to the front window and looked toward the sloped path heading to the lake. Surrounded by pine trees and a shrouded moon, Tess saw only blackness.
Time Span and Romantic Expectation
Because the novella is often three to four times shorter than a full-length novel, the novella time span is also shorter. Usually a month or two is long enough to develop the relationship of a man and woman heading for a deeper commitment. In “An Open Door,” Steffi and Paul leaves the reader with the expectation of a happy ever after ending. An example:
“Maybe you’re right, but you’ve become so important to me. Sometimes I wonder if God had this all set up.”
Paul chuckled. “I’ve said that to myself so many times. The Lord works miracles and opens windows and doors. I realize we’ve only known each other a couple of weeks but look how it worked out.”
“We both work at Mode and spend our time in Manhattan,” she said.
“God’s fixed it so we have time to get to know each other better, but. . .to be honest, I know I’ve fallen in love with you.”
“And I love you, Paul. You’re the key to my heart.”
A tenor’s voice drifted across the water, his love song intermingled with the music of a concertina while Paul drew Steffi into his arms and kissed her. His heart surged with the feeling of her lips on his and the beating her heart against his chest. God had guided them to find each other and opened the doors of their hearts. Although some novellas do end with the promise of marriage, many do not.
The end decision is whether or not the hero and heroine have had enough overall time in their lives to make a marital promise that is God pleasing. Old friends brought together or a failed relationship renewed could prompt a marriage proposal by the story’s end as long as the past issues have been resolved.
The final scene in “All Good Gifts” offers a commitment of love, and an epilogue shows the wedding two years later.
“This is it, Tess.”
She smiled, remembering. “All good gifts come from the Lord.”
He kissed her hair. “And you’re one of the greatest. I love you, Tess.”
“I love you.” Her whisper soared heavenward.
Through the window, the drab December sun had brightened, and a stream of light radiated like a promise. Home, family, love—God’s gifts bound together in one man’s arms, and that’s exactly where she wanted to be.
Whether you write a novel or a novella, the important element is to leave your readers with tears in their eyes and a smile on their lips. Give them a story that grows from awareness to interest to attraction in a realistic manner, and then give them a happy ending.
© Gail Gaymer Martin 2015