Novella Lessons Learned

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A freelance writer always likes to be invited in on the ground floor of something new because you never know what will click and what won’t. All too often, I’ve gotten excited by projects that were met with less enthusiasm.

Yet, when I was invited to join Systema Paradoxa, I was delighted since it meant revisiting my Weekly World News days. In this case, I was asked to pick a cryptid and write an original novella to be part of a Cryptid Crate. Until it’s announced, I cannot say which creature I tackled.

You too can receive a Cryptid Crate, with each one focusing on a different cryptid complete with apparel, collectibles, and most importantly, an original book by a stellar array of authors including Russ Colchamiro, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Mary Fan, John L. French, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, David Lee Summers, and more. As I understand it, nearly two dozen volumes are in the works so fans of creepy crawlies will be in for a treat.

For those less interested, each book will eventually be available for individual sale.

A sampling of what you will find in each crate. Note: I did not write about Bigfoot.

After saying yes last August, I pulled a ton of research from across the web about my still-unannounced creature. Once I read through the information about something I was unfamiliar with, ideas began to percolate. Unfortunately, with other assignments and that pesky full-time teaching job, I didn’t make my pitch until Christmas break. I offered two ideas and my editor, the kind and patient Danielle Ackley-McPhail, asked for the modern-day one, happy to have a story set in another land.

She waited until I finally fleshed out the pitch and received her enthusiastic thumbs up in May. Then it had to wait its turn as I first tackled a novel and a short story.

Now, I have written short stories and novels, but a 30-35,000 word work is considered a novella and this was new for me. And here I learned some valuable lessons. For short works, I write out my outline but keep it on the short side while novel outlines are longer, but still considered short by my peers.

Here, I found I needed far more research than I initially expected. When I sat down in mid-July, I did a ton (I thought) of research about the land and the people I was visiting. However, once I began writing, I realized, I didn’t do anything about the country where the story starts and then nowhere near enough about the country we were going to, its people, and customs. As a result, at least once a writing session I had to stop and go look up something: a word, a custom, a tool, a map, etc. While it slowed me a bit, it also opened my eyes up to enriching aspects of the story with more local flavor. As it turned out, the cryptid research I initially did was consulted the least often.

I should have known better. My pal, Howard Weinstein, is writing historic fiction and he spends months on the research, then pours it all into his outline so by the time he’s ready for the novel, he’s got nearly half of it written. Most recently, he has some 40,000 words in his outline for a 90-100,000 word work.  

I also began to fret at the halfway mark whether or not the outline was sufficient for a long work like this. Then, there was a burst of writing and I sailed by that threshold and didn’t panic again until the two-thirds mark. But, I gamely pushed ahead, writing the entire story to the best of my ability to see where things fell.

As it turned out, the first draft measured 28,965 words, within striking distance. Normally, for longer works, I put it aside for at least a week before sitting down to begin revisions. In this case, it was longer because the day this was completed, Deb and I ran away for nine days of break, seeing a ton of family and some friends, driving to the northern portion of New Hampshire and back.

The revisions are underway and should be delivered by week’s end.

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One thought on “Novella Lessons Learned

  1. Interesting. Not just the writing aspects but the information about cryptids. Been a student of those since 1967.

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