Thursday, March 3, 2016


When I was learning to drive, a few eons ago, my father insisted that I should know how to drive a standard shift. It only took one lesson for both of us to decide that we'd be far better off if I learned to drive on automatic, leaving standard for later lessons and a different teacher. Eventually I did learn to drive standard shift, thanks to my husband who had more patience than Dad did. I drive it if I have to, but it's not usually a happy experience, especially if I have to stop and start on a hill. And that's unavoidable in Pennsylvania!

The trouble is that my preferred mode is to deal with one thing at a time, in driving and in writing. That being said, you can understand the difficulties I face when I switch from writing 100,000 word novels to 60,000 word novels to 25,000 word novellas and even the occasional 3000 word short story. In fact, I've probably blogged about it several times, not because I want to vent but in the hope my experience will be of use to someone else.

In another life, before I wrote for Love Inspired, I wrote a number of short stories for Woman's World magazine under my married name, Martha Johnson. I found that the most crucial thing in developing a short story was the size of the idea to begin with. That means, given the basics of a character with a problem, that the story begins as close to the crisis and resolution as possible. I knew that, of course, but I still wrote a number of stories that straggled on far too long before getting to the point. Then I hit upon the strategy of getting the character's problem out in the open in the first paragraph of the story. There's no space for a leisurely showing of the problem, so I sometimes resorted to opening with another character saying to the protagonist, "The trouble with you is...". Amazingly enough, the first story I wrote with that technique sold, and I was launched on a decent career in writing short stories.

So, when this winter I was tasked with turning from completing a 100,000 word romantic suspense novel (How Secrets Die, out in July from HQN Books) to writing a 25,000 word Christmas novella for Love Inspired, I had to go back to the basics once more. How do you write a compelling, satisfying story in only 25,000 words? The size of the idea came to the forefront again. While a longer novel might include several subplots and side issues, along with a few red herrings to throw the reader off the track, a novella has to stay focused on the main issue, meaning the love story and those things which immediately impact the hero and heroine on their journey to happily ever after.

As I planned the ten chapters that would make up the novella, I made sure that the heroine's external conflict and her romantic conflict came onstage in the first few pages. That done, I could focus on getting the hero onstage (on page 5 or so) and introducing his external conflict and his reaction to the heroine. Once the story was off and running, I could settle in and make sure that I gave the reader a satisfying trip to The End.

The novella I'm finishing up now, The Midwife's Christmas Surprise, will be out in November from Love Inspired. I hope you'll enjoy it!



Jennifer said...

Hi Marta, I really enjoyed your post on short stories. I had always wondered how you went from a novel to a novella and still make the story sound so good. Short stories have kind of become my favorite because you can fit it in better than a novel and you can have several stories into one. Thank you so much for your hard work and getting back to the basics. Truly grateful, Jenny

Anonymous said...

Your account about writing novels or novellas was very good. My dad like your dad taught me to drive on a shift stick. I enjoyed driving one for many years. That's like reading the different kink of books that you write. I enjoy both.

Anonymous said...


jcp said...

I'm looking forward to reading it in Mpvember

Jackie Smith said...

I'll be ready to read Christmas stories by November!!!

Shirley said...

I can't wait to read a new LI story by you. Your Flanagan stories are still hits at my house.