Tuesday, May 26, 2015

4 Tips to Plot a Romance Novella {with Jessica R. Patch}

This is my (Laurie's) last day of maternity leave! Last but not least, because I think she's rather swell, I've invited author friend Jessica Patch again to talk about novellas. She's written some pretty fantastic ones, and, well, I want to be just like her. Here's Jess...


Thanks, Laurie, for having me back at the Alley. I love hanging out with you lovelies! Today, I’m talking about how to plot a novella and make it feel like a novel. I try to keep up with reviews, threads, and conversations readers have when discussing novellas. Hearing a reader say, I wanted this book to be longer, doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, it can be great if it’s because they loved it so much they didn’t want to stop reading. Writing a novella can be fun and a challenge. I wrote my first novella partially to see if I could! I’ve written three more since then.

How can you pack in character development, unrushed romance, and a fully developed plot (and keep the pace steady) in about 30K words? Here’s how I did it:

1. Create two main characters and give them goals. I discover who my characters are and what they each want externally and internally. Here is where you can break rules. At least I did. In my Christmas novella, Knox didn’t start out with a goal or dream. He thought he was doing just fine in his little world. Until Eden came in with her goal and shook it up. Audrey, in Just the Way You Are, dreamed of owning her business but was content for the moment working in the florist shop, until her bosses sold the business and Pastor Gabe asked her to help him build a prayer garden. His goal was trying to find a way out of Audrey’s friend-zone. The goal can be super simple. The conflict is what will make it feel complex.

2. Stick to the main plot. Sorry, but there isn’t room for subplots in a novella. You need all the word count to devote to an unrushed romance, a fully developed character arc for each main character, and a steady plot to reach their HEAs. I grabbed notecards and began brainstorming scenes that would drive the plot forward, cause conflict, create romantic tension, and develop their arc as well as the spiritual thread. I jotted down scene ideas for the main characters until a story took shape and they reached their goals and HEA. I had about 50 scene ideas, but I only used maybe 8-10. Remember to keep them together in every chapter!

3. Outline to stay on point. Pantsers are freaking out right now. Don’t! I’m mostly a pantser, too. But I’m finding that you can’t get away with that forever. Not if you go the traditional publishing route. Stretch. Grow. Find what works for you like I did. You can do this! Okay here’s how I did it. Once I had my key scenes, I used Power Point to create virtual note cards and I outlined the book. I don’t do it in chapters because that’s too much math. I just get the scenes on the virtual note cards then I go back through and layer in a romantic and spiritual thread. Romance in red. Spiritual thread in green. It’s usually one sentence or two. Example: Gabe notices Audrey’s generosity and detail with the flower arrangement she brings to the house and it moves him. When I actually write the scene, “moves him” gets shown not told, but for an outline that’s all I need. Example from the same scene: Audrey sees Sierra bring the ice while she brings a flower spread that takes up too much room and wishes she had thought of that and been more useful. Comparison/insecurity begins. By outlining like this, I can keep my scenes on point and fully develop each thread.

4. Write tight. Less is more. What might be several paragraphs of good narrative in a full-length now becomes one paragraph or a series of sprinkles. You can scale down without losing anything. Dialogue has to move the plot forward (as with any novel), so make it count!

You’ll be amazed how much you can pack into novella, still keep your voice, and give readers a great experience. They might say the book was too short, but it won’t be because they felt it was undeveloped.

Have you written a novella? What tips would you add?   

Click here to join Jessica’s newsletter to receive her next two novellas (releasing this year) FREE! 

Hope Under Mistletoe and her newest novella,  Just the Way You Are, are available on Amazon

Blurb for Just the Way You Are

When Pastor Gabe asks Audrey Gilbraith to use her mad florist skills to help him design a prayer garden, she’s all in, especially since it helps take her mind off the fact she’s about to lose her job and her apartment. But working closely with Gabe without falling for him is complicated. She’s not pastor’s wife material, and she has the past to prove it.

Gabriel Brookson wants out of Audrey’s friend-zone, but when he pursues her romantically, he ruffles more than a few feathers in his congregation. How much is he willing to give up for this wonderful, quirky woman, and will Audrey accept him if he risks it all? 


Jessica R. Patch lives in the mid-south where she pens inspirational contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. 

When she’s not hunched over her laptop or going on adventurous trips in the name of research with willing friends, you can find her sneaking off to movies with her husband, watching way too much Netflix with her daughter, dominating her son at board games, and collecting recipes to amazing dishes she'll probably never cook. 

Her debut novel with Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense will release in January 2016. She is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Management.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Jessica, great tips! I haven't tried my hand at novella writing yet. I may some day. :) I love the idea of color-coding different aspects of the story.

Thanks for removing some of the intimidation-factor of writing a novella! :)

Jill Weatherholt said...

Terrific tips, Jessica. I especially like the color-coding.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I can't wait to try this out! Thanks for visiting again <3 You're so smart!

Unknown said...

Hi ladies! So glad the tips helped. Or at least sparked a creative way for you to plot one out.

Laurie, you're the besto! Thanks again for having me. :)

Pepper Basham said...

Great tips, Jessica
And I love the info about PPT! I'm a BIG PPT fan so creating virtual notecards totally works for me! Love it!
OneNote does too.

I'm starting my first novella and am so thankful for this post!

Krista Phillips said...

I LOVE novella writing. A lot more than i ever thought I would.

My only disagreement is outlining, LOL. I am a pantster and STILL can't outline, even my novellas! Believe me, I tried. No can do!!!

My only advice to add would be: Think of it like a candy bar.

You have a full-sized snickers bar.

Just because you then have a miniature one, it still has all the necessary elements... the chocolate, the peanuts, the caramel, the nugget.... it's just all on a smaller scale.

Same with a novella. YOu still have her H/H, you still have internal/external conflict, you still have to ratchet up the conflict and have a climax and a black moment. It's just all on a smaller, shorter, quicker scale. :-)

(and crap, now I want a snickers!!!!)