Learning to Write Short [REPOST]

Melanie Greene~ By Melanie Greene

When we trek to Ireland every summer to spend a couple of weeks with my mother-in-law, what do my teenage sons look forward to? The gorgeous vistas, the culture and history of Dublin, Nana’s rashers and brown bread?

Well, sure. They’re not ingrates.

But every morning I find them lounging in Nana’s lounge, watching reruns of Friends. (Nana doesn’t have internet, much less the capacity to record shows.)

So when I attended a workshop on writing novellas, and the presenter suggested we think of a novella like a sitcom, my light bulb moment wasn’t far behind.

You see, I write long. (Too long? Nonsense! Each word is precious! Um. Probably.) But I had this grand idea about writing novellas that tie in to the full-length novels in my contemporary series, and just the one problem: every time I started plotting one, I was also sub-plotting.

The presenter pointed out that in a sit-com like Friends, you’ll get an A plot and a bit of a B plot, with few characters and all the action concentrated in one or two familiar places. It’s so much more efficient to create one setting and have my characters stay there. It keeps the reader grounded. And it keeps me from spending pages and pages describing new places. Same thing with characters: keeping the cast small means fewer interpersonal relationships to develop. So again, fewer pages!

sheep Once I had that light bulb moment, that first novella took shape easily. I took on the challenge of figuring out how to get everything I wanted my characters to experience and learn about each other happen during one date, at his house, while still dealing with situational and interpersonal complications that raised the stakes. Every time I got stuck, I just played that oft-heard Friends theme song in my head, and narrowed my focus. It worked like a charm (if I do say so myself) and in the end my first novella (READY TO ROLL, out this month!) is exactly what I wanted: tightly concentrated, funny, revealing, and dynamic. If it weren’t for the explicit moments, it could be a sitcom episode.

I continued applying the lessons with my novella-in-progress, and have discovered an interesting bit of craftsmanship while plotting a new novel: forcing those novella scenes work hard to deliver so much in so few words is a transferrable skill. I’m excited to apply it to the rest of the series, no matter the length of the manuscript.

So next summer, when persuading my jet-lagged sons to get dressed so we can go explore some castle or waterfall, I’ll be a little more lenient than in the past. Their beloved reruns are, after all, helping me become a stronger, shorter writer.

Melanie Greene, the CR-RWA PRO Liaison, writes steamy contemporary romance and sometimes stops typing long enough to tell one of her teenage sons to do his chores. She imported her husband to Texas from Dublin, which means she has to go to Ireland every year to visit his family, but they always come back to her hometown. ROCKET MAN and READY TO ROLL, the first novel and novella in her ROLL OF THE DICE series, are available now.  Find out more at www.melaniegreene.com or follow her @dakimel .

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