Guest Post: Beth Cato, “How I Wrote a Novella in Four Easy (?) Steps”
Today is a special day. Beth Cato, talented writer of the Clockwork Dagger series and fellow Harper Voyager author, is paying us a visit. Read her post, and check out her work (Many steampunk! Very wow!).
The good news is that Harper Impulse Voyager sent me a contract to write a novella in my Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy world. Yay! The bad news is that I had never written a novella before, so I was rather freaked out about the whole thing.
Novellas tend to be 17,500-40,000 words long. There are very few magazines that accept stories of that length, so it’s a format that I avoided because it’s so hard to market (though that is starting to change). Like most writers, I tend to have my comfort zones for word counts; my stories tend to be around 1,000 or 4,000 or 6,000 words, and my novels tend to hit at about 90,000. Novellas are out in some wasteland.
But more good news: I wrote the novella, and it’s out as of November 10th! “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” features two teenage girls setting out to save a laboratory full of gremlins from a politically-powerful scientist.
Here’s how I survived going from zero to 27,000 words of published text.
1) I sent up the Bat Signal to call in friends who had written novellas.
They provided great advice, including:
– read more novellas to understand the pacing
– keep the named character count low
– think like a novel cut into a 1/3. I actually pulled out some of my novel outlines to see how long they were to get a sense of how I usually work.
2) I outlined my novella.
There is a constant debate in the writing community about if plotting or writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is best. As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be a debate. A writer should find out what works for them, and that might change by the project.
Following that advice to think of it like a short novel, I did my usual “plot vomit” where I write out everything I want to throw in the story. It was a big mess but from there I could fill in gaps and break it into chapters.
3) I wrote and rewrote.
Since I hadn’t done a novella before, I fumbled a lot through the process. I ended up adding a new chapter when I revised, and I had to rewrite another full chapter on my editor’s advice. I had great feedback from critique partners, too–some of those same people who gave me initial advice on writing novellas.
4) I continued to read more novellas as I worked on mine.
My Clockwork Dagger series doesn’t take place on Earth, but it still required a lot of research. For this novella, that research included making a technical study of other novellas:
– How much time did they spend setting up the world at the beginning?
– How many characters did they use?
– At what point did the climax hit?
– How long did it take to resolve things afterward?
It was like returning to my college English 1B class, but a lot more useful and enjoyable.
The good news: “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” received a passing grade from my editor. I’m pretty happy with the end result, too. I can say I’ve published a novella now… and who knows? I just might write another one.
Wings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella
A few months after the events of The Clockwork Crown…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.
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Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.