Over at KindleBoards.com, there was a recent discussion thread where a fellow author wondered about whether he should publish his novel as a novel, or as three shorts novellas. He was concerned because he knew of a reader who had read an eBook and expressed a preference for reading a complete novel, rather than, “a one-act novella.”
He asked for feedback and I posted my response before reading what anyone else wrote. I’ve adapted it here for my writer’s blog because I think it’s an important question to consider.
You see, I think novellas are a wonderful thing.
But only if a complete story is being told; something with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying resolution. A one-act story that’s obviously part of a longer work, where there’s not much middle and no resolution/end, is not, to me, satisfying.
I think of some of the short novels and novellas I’ve read and loved over time.
RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Stephen King:
This short novel by King contained more plot, detail, story and memorable characters than many authors offer up using twice the number of words. It wasn’t part of a series, though; King resolved everything that needed to be resolved within that form.
THE BODY by Stephen King
Again, a short novel by King that offers a complete reading experience, in and of itself. And one of the most influential novels on MY life that I’ve ever read.
These are a handy pair that leap to mind immediately.
What is less satisfying is when one is offered a short novel, but all it does is introduce and establish the cast and the basic conflict, without really telling any story. That’s a sin that, I contend, is exactly what the first two books of Stephanie Meyer’s TWILIGHT series do. There’s really nothing in those first two novels.
And a lot of paranormal romances are like TWILIGHT.
Now, I’m all about writing novels that are part of a series. It can be a fun thing to do. They can even be a pleasure to read. But each installment must have a sense of something happening, and something being resolved by the end of it, even if more story lay ahead.
Think of it this way: The Hardy Boys Mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon were a very popular series from the 1930s on. Each novel followed Jim Shooter’s rules for storytelling (even though they were written before Shooter was born).
Introducing characters, establishing conflict, building suspense, and reaching a resolution to… something! That’s not the complete list, but that’s the essence of it.
Would the Hardy Boys have been as good a series, as popular with readers, if it were structured like modern-day paranormal roamnces? Here’s how that might look.
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 1
Joe and Frank go to Black Rock Summer Camp and find themselves … accused of the murder of nerdy science geek and fellow camper, Brad Brent!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 2
Joe and Frank escape from police custody and are on the run from the law as they seek to discover the identity of the real killer of Brad Brent before he strikes again. But then another camper shows up dead: head counselor and Joe and Frank’s main suspect, Robert Worrell!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 3
Accused of both the murder of Brad Brent and Robert Worrell, Joe and Frank call their police-chief father to come to summer camp and help them solve the murder. On the drive up, he pulls to the side of the road and takes a nap. When he wakes up, he’s being held captive by… Camp Founder Nathan Vean!
MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 4
Joe and Frank elude capture as their father fights for his life against Camp Founder Nathan Vean. They stumble upon the cabin Vean is holding their father in, overcome Vean, and expose him as the culprit of the crime. END OF MURDER AT BLACK ROCK.
Be sure to buy our next Hardy Boys Saga, A SERIOUS EYE INFECTION… a mystery in SIX PARTS!
Would that have led to success for The Hardy Boys?
No. Of course not. Readers would have been ticked off.
We need, as writers, to realize that novels are NOT episodic television. What works for DOCTOR WHO or THE KILLING does not work in novel form. And the fact that DOCTOR WHO novelizations gather the old Tom Baker serials (and the serials of other Doctors, too, of course) into one novel per story, instead of taking a seven-episode story and making it seven short novels, should tell us something.
I have an interest in how to approach this sort of conundrum.
I am working on a series next myself. The EMBER series of novels. There are certain character arc elements to my series that will carry over from novel to novel.
But one thing I won’t be doing with EMBER is telling an incomplete story and calling it a novel, or even a short novel.
I’m working on the first installment, SHADA, which is a prequel of sorts to EMBER. Call it “Ember, Book Zero” if you wish.
It’s already over 25,000 words and will go at least 30,000, maybe even 35,000. It’ll go as long as it goes, I guess.
Because as much as I want SHADA to be a short novel, I want even more for SHADA to be a complete reading experience in and of itself. Some of the characters will move on to the next book. Others may fade out.
New characters definitely pop up as the series goes on. But the main story of SHADA is the story of a camping trip these four friends go on and their adventures during it. When the words THE END appear at the conclusion of SHADA, that camping experience that the novel is about is done, over, told.
The ramifications of it may ripple into future novels, sure. That’s fair. But that particular adventure is complete.
So, these are my thoughts.
I love short novels.
I love series.
I don’t love incomplete reading experiences, though. So if something needs to be novel-length to be complete, make it novel-length. If something’s a short novel length and is complete, let it be a short novel.
GOLDEN RULE: Short stories, novelettes, short novels and novels are not episodic television. Each story needs a beginning, middle and resolution/end. Anything less, and whatever it is, it’s not a story.