Guest Post: W.D. Gagliani

Today we have a super awesome guest post from the fantastic W.D Gagliani (whose novel I reviewed some time ago). He was gracious enough to put up a post about something I’ve written very little about. The novella. Not quite a novel, not quite a short, it’s a creature in-between.

 

So, without further delay…. here’s his words of wisdom!

 

Novel-Novella: What Fresh Hell-a?

 

Somewhere along the line, I realized I’d managed to write five and a half novels (one is a collaboration), several dozen short stories, and countless book reviews. One thing I had never written was a novella. (Well, I have a 10,000-word short I call a novella, but that’s really just a long short.)

 

So what’s the problem?

 

Well, I’d guess that anyone who has come to the novel finish line five and a half times probably knows how it’s done, or at least how it works for him. Process being both fluid and personal, I mean. And typing the word “End” on enough short stories to fill a couple collections would seem to indicate a certain facility with that length and its requirements. A certain facility with the technique required to get the work done.

 

Right?

 

Wrong! As I learned earlier this year when I decided to write a novella set within my Wolf series (between books two and three, to be specific), and then went on to spend a couple weeks working on a cover with a designer… that is, creating a cover before the work was even started.

 

The heights of arrogance, right? No, I didn’t think so. It was just confidence. The hard work would be designing the cover to fit the look of the previous books: matching the style of the typeface, getting the details right, and so on. That would be the hard work. The writing? Child’s play, of course! What could be so hard about writing a story 25 to 35,000 words in length? I’d routinely hit the upper nineties with some of my novels. If anything, I’ve always been an overwriter.

 

So my thinking went like this: If I can routinely write novels that brush the 100K mark, how much trouble is something less than a third of that going to be?

 

Almost nine months later, I’m here to confess. It was a lot of trouble. In fact, it still is – because it’s still not finished. The cover will be obsolete by the time I get to type “End” at the bottom of this one. This one, my friends, really kicked my ass to the curb. I’m just counting on getting back on my feet after all this time because I think I’ve stumbled on to the secret solution.

 

You see, you need not just an ending to drive toward. With a novella, especially one set within an already existing multi-book arc, you need something of a game-changer for an ending. You need a revelation, or an insight, or a climax worthy of your novels… but not large enough to upstage them.

 

This is my advice. Don’t just know where your story is going – a technique that’s obviously helpful at any length. But also know why this place toward which your characters are driving is important to the other books.

 

Originally, in my arrogance, I thought just telling a side story involving my pet characters would be enough. Maybe sometimes it is… I won’t dispute the possibility that just adding a “new adventure” may get the job done for a fair number of readers. In that situation, you’ve written a sort of stunted novel. Probably okay for most cases. But when you’re toiling inside a world you’ve created (setting, characters, pace and tone that is recognizably your own), what you really want is a mini-epic, not just a growth-challenged novel.

 

I started out strong with a good plot, a new antagonist, a set of gruesome crimes, returning characters in their familiar roles, some new characters, and hopefully the same vibe as my other books. I wrote and wrote… and then hit a brick wall. I knew what the story was and where it was going, so that wasn’t the problem.

 

The problem was that my characters were going through the motions. They might as well have been any other set of characters from any other anonymous series written by somebody who could write novels, but apparently could not, for the life of him, manage to figure out why this novella project was over half-done and still somehow DOA.

 

Until (and I swear this happened) one day one of the characters turned to me and said something like: “You realize this isn’t enough, right?” I was shocked. Such arrogance! “You really think this is enough?” Such insubordination! I shushed him and kept working, driving around in circles. Nowhere near finishing.

 

You see, I have a character who sees the ghost of a departed friend, a ghost who talks to him often with bitingly sarcastic remarks. Or, he’s simply delusional. But he knows he might be delusional, so under my version of the Catch-22 rule, he must not be. Yet, there is the talking and disappearing ghost.

 

And what I realized was that the novella, besides driving toward a certain ending in which some bad guy was vanquished by my protagonist, the novella would also lead up to and show the moment the protagonist turned and saw the ghost and heard his voice for the very first time. You see, I had (apparently wisely) left that moment blank in the books. In book three, the ghost was just there, talking up a blue streak. My protagonist had to deal with him (or his own delusional mind), and he did. But now the important moment at which this great personal dilemma was born could become part of my first novella, telling a story no novel could – because novel length would have been too long – and yet exploring it in a way no short story could have contained.

 

I’m getting over my problem now, and I think the novella will soon be finished. Because when that character told me what he needed, I finally listened. And gave him a reason to get through his own first novella. Remember when you tackle your own new challenge to plan ahead and go not only for an appropriate climax, but make it one that will be relevant in some other way, especially if you are dealing with an existing series story arc. If your series is made up of novellas, then clearly this advice won’t be for you… unless you set short stories within your novella series!

 

As for me, I’m hoping that – now my mind is set on what the important new focus is – the novella’s ending will write itself. This feels like a burden lifted, and I hope it helps lighten your load, too, if you’ve faced or are facing a similar problem.

 

In fact, I might write another novella when this one tells me it’s done. Just because now I think I can…

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

W.D. Gagliani is the author of Bram Stoker Award-nominated Wolf’s Trap, as well as Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge (just released by Samhain), as well as Savage Nights, Shadowplays, and Mysteries & Mayhem (with David Benton), and dozens of short stories, book reviews, articles, and interviews. His article on writing werewolf epics appears in the October 2011 issue of The Writer magazine. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild.

www.wdgagliani.com

www.facebook.com/wdgagliani

Twitter: @WDGagliani

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