Saturday, March 25, 2017

When Novellas Attack (And Become Novels)


Hello, all! I bet you all thought that I'd fallen off the face of the earth, but I didn't, believe it or not. I've just been preoccupied with other things, and may continue to be. But for the moment, I have the urge to blog, so blog I will.

What's slightly amusing is that I wrote the title of this post apparently several months ago with the intent of writing a blog to go along with it. At that point, I'd just finished up a writing project. But I finished that up late last year, and in the meantime I--gulp--have written (well, rewritten) an entire 110k-word novel. It's hard to get myself back into the headspace of the previous project, even though I finished it only a few months ago. My computer tells me that the file for that manuscript was last edited in December, but I think I must have finished it up before then, because I couldn't have banged out 110k words in like two months. No way. Right?

See? My poor little brain gets so muddled. Talk to me about Civil War politics, or British royalty, and I'm clear-headed. Ask me to write a sentence--or a few hundred--and I'm your gal. But keep track of what I did last week, last month, or last year? Heck, no. That's why I have a calendar and take pictures.

In any case, this is the story of the Novella That Would be a Novel.

I set out to write a novella. That's an unusual thing to do, because there is no market for novellas, really. Novels are the thing, But after I wrote The Cotton Wars, a prequel to my antebellum novel Channing, I wanted to write something fun and quick--a palate cleanser. So I woite a novella set during the Civil War. A long novella, but a novella. And I loved it--still do--but I thought to myself, what good is a novella? Maybe--and it was just a theory--it would be more salable if there were two related novellas that could be smushed together into one book of novel length.

Now, novella #1 ("Hamilton Gray") is about a Confederate soldier who is coming home to his burnt-out cabin after losing his arm. He meets a woman who calls herself Missy and who isn't what she appears at first to be. He has delusions, and there are some adventures. It's a nice little story. What I intended for Novella #2 was a counterpoint to that story, with a Union soldier as a main character who isn't all that he seems to be. Along the way, the Confederate MC learns a lesson about slavery and empathy.

I began to spin a plot around that. I knew I wanted the Confederate woman, instead of the Confederate man, to learn a lesson, and for the Union man to learn a bit of a lesson, too. In my Civil War wanderings, I was struck in particular by the Battle of the Wilderness because of the rather grisly fact that fires broke out in the thick, impenetrable woods where the battle took place, and many wounded men were burned alive. It was almost a literal hell. I wish I could remember now where I read it, but I also read about a woman who lived near a battlefield who went out to nurse a man out in the field because he was too injured to be moved. And it clicked. I wanted my character to be burned and to be nursed by a Confederate woman who didn't realize he was a Union soldier.

From there, I built up the characters of Mazarine and Clara. Clara and her sisters were widows, living with the sister's six children in their uncle's house. Mazarine was a Yankee lieutenant sent to commandeer their house as headquarters for his commanding officer. This meant fleshing out the characters of Clara's sister and all her children, most particularly Eliezer, a 13-year-old boy who's itching to be part of the war.

Out of these elements, I began to devise a plot. Now, the way I work, I usually begin with a general concept--a beginning, an ending, or some highlight that I want to hit. With this story, I knew I had to start at the moment Mazarine and Clara meet, and that there would be a battle. And I knew where I wanted to end. What I began to build the story around was the moment of Clara recognizing Mazarine after she'd been nursing him for a while.

So, what would happen between the moment they meet and the moment she recognizes him? They have to bicker a bit and then part ways, and he has to get injured and be caught in the flames. I began to create some conflict between them, then used Eliezer as a catalyst to get Mazarine into the thick of the battle. And later . . . well, let's just say that Eliezer is also something of a catalyst for allowing Mazarine and Clara to understand one another.

As you go, you build in subplots. I started one involving the dead father, Liam, and whose fault it was that he went off to be a soldier and was killed. It occurred to me that Liam had his own story to tell, so I gave him his own chapters. Yes, he's dead, but that doesn't mean his story is necessarily done. I was enthused about this also because there's a supernatural element to "Hamilton Gray" (the other novella), and this added a similar element to "Mazarine" (the working title).

I won't reveal much else, but by the time I wound up all these story lines, I had a story of 86k words. And that is solidly in the realm of a novel. Plans change, and sometimes you just have to let the story lead you. In this case, the story led me to a novel I wasn't expecting.

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