Nancy: Back to the Drawing Board (Novella Edition)

Woman With a Plan

I spent much of this past week planning. Planning my annual writing calendar. Planning time for writing, revising, and editing the many different stories I hope to write this year. Planning the historical romance novella series that is part of that annual writing plan. And that’s where I’ve hit a snag. In fact, I’ve hit a few snags and have had to go back to the drawing board.


Problem 1. Novella 1 (book 1 of the series) is too damn long. This issue isn’t too surprising to me, as this poor manuscript has had so many different identities, it just has no idea what it is or is supposed to be. It was a novella before it was a novel before it was a novella again before it was the first book of a series. This has meant numerous conflict boxes, story maps, and manuscript versions. This past week, as I pieced the various manuscript parts together á la Frankenstein’s monster, I realized that in its current form, in order to have a beginning, middle, and end, the ‘novella’ is now around 80k words. My target was 40k. I’d be willing to go as high as 50k. But 80k? Ugh. At least now that all the words are in one file, I can do a thorough read and start making some serious cuts.

Problem 2. Who are all these people and why are they all in this book? One of the challenges of a series, especially a romance series in which each book will have its own couple pursuing their HEA, is readers need to meet and differentiate between at least some number of the characters from all the books in each story. The common thread for this series will be five ‘wild boys’ who are old school friends (the heroes) and the ladies (smart, strong-willed, and sometimes even nefarious) who will tame them. But bringing them on too fast, too soon, and without enough traits to keep them separate in the readers’ minds is a recipe for disaster. And it’s currently what’s happening in the early chapters of novella 1.

Jenny Crusie has talked about the issue of too many characters/how to keep them all straight for readers in this blog post. By sorting the characters in categories, as Jenny suggests, I hope to see who is necessary on the page when, and get the other characters out of there until it’s their turn.

Problem 3. I could have sworn there was a ‘big goal’ in there somewhere, but damned if I can find it (it was possibly stolen by a julenisse back in December). Another way to tie the books in a series together is to have some overarching goal being pursued by the related characters in the stories. For example, friend of the blog Mindy Klasky discussed her Diamond Brides series with us back in 2014, a series centered around the fictional Raleigh Rockets pro baseball team. While each book is a stand-alone, there’s also an overarching goal of the team – the goal of every pro baseball team – to get to and win the World Series, of course!

I’m a fan of the ‘big goal’. It’s one more reason to invest in and root for the characters. And I had a few ideas for my series, which I was sure I’d captured in my series bible (aka a multi-workbook spreadsheet). But that was before the craziness of November’s NaNoWriMo, which I didn’t ‘win’, but for which I did complete more than 20k new words for novella 1 (thus pushing it over the word count goal, see issue #1). I probably only imagined or dreamed or hoped I’d captured some really fabulous ‘big goal’ idea, because, alas, I have nothing in writing. After some intense brainstorming, I now have a few ideas. I’m planning to use my two upcoming writers’ retreats (one of the with the 8LWs!) to further explore and refine some sort of series goal.


It’s only the second full week of January and already  I’ve got issues (but I’m just focusing on the writing-related ones here). Luckily, I’ve got some tentative mitigation plans as well. But I also have a feeling this 5- or 6-book series is going to be quite the multi-headed beast to wrestle to the ground, and I’ll likely have lots of unplanned trips back to the drawing board with this one. *sigh*

I could use some guidance and good reads to help wrap my head around all of this. So help a sister out. What series do you think is exceptionally well done? Bonus points for any historical romance series, and extra shiny bonus points if the stories are novellas!

11 thoughts on “Nancy: Back to the Drawing Board (Novella Edition)

  1. Sorry, I don’t know of any novella series, but for historical romance series I would suggest Loretta Chase’s Carsington Brothers series (Jilly mentioned Mr. Impossible from that series yesterday). The books are all stand-alone, but there is the over-reaching to goal of the father, which is to get all his sons happily married. I think they’re really well done. The characters are all distinct and interesting in their own ways, and when they interact, it’s easy keep track of who is who. That last part is important to me when reading a series. One series I read a few years back had characters that were very similar in each book. In the scenes when they were all together, it was really hard to tell them apart. Definitely not a feature. Julia Quinn has her Bridgerton series, which is quite good. Not sure about an over-reaching goal for the series, but the characters are all quite distinct, despite being family members.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Elizabeth! The Bridgerton series was already on my radar, and now I will look for Chase’s Carsington Brothers. As you can imagine, right now I am especially interested in reading first books in the series to see how the authors do the introductions and differentiation. It sounds like these feats were well done in both these series.

  3. Oh dear. I know I’ve read books where each book (actually novellas) was devoted to a brother or a sister of a family, but I can not for the life of me remember the details, let alone the titles. It sounds like a very logical way to group things, though.

    I remember some Southern story about the lives of three girlfriends through the eyes of one of their kids. I can’t remember how the POV worked. It may have been all narrated by the girl, but I think some chapters/stories were from the POV of the woman (especially later in the book, and this resolved some of the “crazy” behavior that the girl was observing — it wasn’t so crazy, it was that she didn’t know the history). These were definitely shorter than novellas.

    I am pretty sure it was Mitchner (maybe in Hawaii?) who wrote, well, they were probably novels in word-count, but collections of stories, that would pass down from generation to generation. I think this is a more vertical hand-off than what you are looking for.

    My mom read so many family sagas back in the 70s and 80s . . . again, vertical, and longer than what you are looking for.

    Sorry that’s not much help. I saw somewhere (I think it was in the Atlantic) a really cool graphic to explain how to write an overarching story with vignettes — the main story was on the top (I think it was a boat trip), and from the main story line dangled boxes, like Christmas tree ornaments. Self-contained in each box, but connected firmly to the main story. (I didn’t read the article it described, so I’m not sure if there were call-backs and other connections between the dangling boxes.) (Not the Atlantic, The New Yorker: Hope that link works. I think it’s the second illustration if you scroll down.)

    • I was a huge Michener fangirl back in middle/high school! (My favorite was The Covenant, set in South Africa.) Yes, he wrote ‘novels in novels’. I remember in Centennial he had a chapter about dinosaurs! Years after I’d read it, I heard scientists had settled on a new theory of diplodocus (that is was a land animal, not a water animal), and I remember thinking that now Michener’s book was wrong.

      Given the length and complexity of his books, I think it’s possible editors today would try to break individual books into series. And he would definitely need to go that route if he were self-pubbing :-).

      • (-: Little Michener detour. But yes, Hawaii started with volcanoes, if I remember right. And I had a tough time getting through the first paragraph. But my mom read the first chapter to me while my sister and I were washing dishes (and it was cool! Volcanoes and Pele and stuff!), and I was able to take the rest of it on my own.

        I revisited Michener as an adult. I think I read Alaska, and it was really, really bad. But then I read Mexico, and was blown away.

  4. Courtney Milan has several historical series–the Brothers Sinister, Carhart, and Turner series. Most of the series are novels, but in those series, she includes novellas as prequels to the series or that don’t quite fit the overall theme in some way. When you look at her list on Amazon, you can tell the novellas by their lower price. 🙂

    I know what you mean about your planning coming undone–one week in, and mine’s a shambles. Best laid plans…!

    • I just started reading Milan a few years ago, possibly on a recommendation from a fellow McDaniel-ite, but I have yet to read one of her series. I must remedy that!

      As for the planning, I’m trying to be very Bug Bunny zen about it: ‘Plans, schmans. As long as I’m writing.’

  5. I love Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green books. I think they’re all full novels, but there are two families and a huge cast of characters and they’re all distinctive. There’s also an over-arching mystery that connects the two families, and all sorts of important over-arching back-story that sneaks in, book by book. I especially like that the families are not blue-blooded. They’re wealthy and powerful, but self-made and ambitious; they mix with Dukes, and there are balls and gowns, but also commerce and politics and all kinds of great stuff.

    • Oh, these look great – thanks for the reminder! I love some of her titles, e.g., Between the Devil and Ian Eversea :-).

      Also, I now have the Nirvana song Pennyroyal Tea stuck in my head. And I want a cup of tea.

  6. Marion Chesney/M.C. Beaton has some good Regency series. I totally loved The Six Sisters. They’re not novellas, but they are short–Minerva, the first in the series, is only 241 pages. They have this wonderful character, one of the girls’ godmother, I think her name was Lady Godolphin, who wears mouse-skin eyebrows. She was a hoot.

    As for your plans falling apart–as Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.”

  7. OMG, mouse-skin eyebrows. That sounds like one of those research tidbits a writer finds that makes her think, ‘I have got to use that somewhere!’ And I agree with Eisenhower on plans and planning :-).

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