Of Novellas and Hop, Skip, Jump

No matter what writing project is currently top priority, there are always at least two or three other WIPs engaging my mind, on and off. The entire time I’ve been soldiering away on Camp Expendable, I’ve dipped into other projects to expand a scene, add a bit of dialogue, or make some notes.

The Darkest Prison isn’t a WIP. It’s a very long short story (or novelette of about 12,000 words, that I published four years ago. I’ve always wanted to expand it, and go deeper into the horror that is Brian’s life after being condemned for a crime he didn’t commit, but it remained very low on the must-do list. I don’t know what it popped back into the front of my mind recently; maybe it’s simmered without my being aware of it, and the time is now right to give it some attention. It’s an extremely claustrophobic story that needs to be opened up, if only to give the reader some relief from the tension now and then. I expect it will grow to novella length and that’s fine. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t need to be dragged out into a full-length novel, and I don’t think I would have the patience for it, anyway. New plot points have already presented themselves to me, so I now have the pleasurable problem of squeezing it in among all the other which demand my attention unexpectedly and intermittently.

The Passive Voice posted an excerpt from an Independent article today, which relates to my growing interest in writing novellas when possible, rather than novels. The article celebrates novellas for reasons that I find quite superficial. But I’m not one of those people who are so time-challenged that I can’t commit to anything that takes more than two or three hours to read. Judging from too many similar articles, I suspect that most of those people would simply rather watch TV or a movie than make a “serious commitment” to something that can be described as “excess baggage.”

In fact, the author spends most of her time talking about movies and the novellas that have been adapted for the screen. Maybe I’m reading too much into what she does say, but I get the impression that reading the classics is something she does as one of those things that makes you appear educated. So she’s willing to read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illich, but didn’t make it through War and Peace. All that extra baggage, you know. Does that have anything to do with the growing inability of writers to wrestle with the English language? “Patterson’s BookShots, by contrast, are unabashedly fleetingly.” And then there’s “Novellas are confidentially self-contained…”

“There’s something deliciously daring about a book that says no more than it needs to.” Really? Could that statement have come from anyone except a person who seems to approve of James Patterson’s statement about his new “book shots:” “’You can race through these — they’re like reading movies…’”

As a writer, the novella give me an opportunity to develop a complex plot in a comparatively compact space. As a reader, I’ll take the “excess baggage” every time.

Small is Beautiful by Holly Williams

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4 thoughts on “Of Novellas and Hop, Skip, Jump

    1. Drabbles are way too small for me to consider them beautiful, though they’re probably a good writing exercise. I rarely read even short stories. My preference is almost always for a doorstop novel.

      1. You like what you like. But sometimes a haiku is perfect.

        And practice at getting a short story from 150 words to 100 is a good exercise for tightening all kinds of writing.

        Plus some of mine have been SO satisfying. Of course, they tend to end up mystery stories with someone no longer with us.

        Fiction is so useful.

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