Switching gears entirely from the last book…. Seduced by a Pirate, by Eloisa James! You’ve gotta love a title like that. I broke my teeth in the romance world by reading pirate romance novels, so this was a blast from the past for me. Except that I don’t remember the characters in the novels back then being quite like this.
First off, Seduced by a Pirate was a novella. Now, I’m not as familiar with the novella format, but it seems to be growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. A lot of authors, like Eloisa James, are putting out novellas in e-format only as a companion to a larger novel. Seduced by a Pirate is the companion novella to The Ugly Duchess. I think this is sort of a cool idea, and in fact it’s made me want to write a few novellas for my Noble Hearts series to cover some of the events that happen after The Courageous Heart ends.
But I digress.
Novellas are, as I understand it, 40,000 words or less. Whoa. That’s actually a huge challenge for someone who writes the way I do. The trick to a novella is to dilute all of the action of a full plot into a compact story. That includes the full character arc and all of the backstory. I get the impression that people think novellas are easier to write than novels, but actually, I think they must be harder. There are so many balls to keep in the air in a short period of time.
Eloisa James handles the balls expertly. Yes I said that. In particular, she incorporates some pretty complex backstory into the action of the present. In fact, the backstory is the plot motivator, you could say. But she doesn’t ever just spill it all out on the page. She weaves it into the misunderstandings of the present.
Here’s what I mean….
Our hero, Griffin, the notorious pirate captain of the Flying Poppy, a ship he named after his wife, returns to land after 14 years to hang up his pirate hat because he’s been injured and knows he’d be dead in six months if he kept pirating. So he goes home to his wife, who he hasn’t seen since their wedding night. Why hasn’t he seen her since their wedding night? Because that night he, a skinny and nervous lad of 17, was freaked the heck out by his older and more sophisticated wife of 20 who tore off her own clothes and bid him to “have at!”. 17-year old Griffin did not rise to the challenge and jumped out the window to flee in terror. He went to the local pub and got ragingly drunk … and was pressed into service on the sea. Not only has he not been home in 14 years, he doesn’t even remember his wife’s name correctly. It’s Phoebe, not Poppy. Oh, and when he arrives home his wife has three children.
Phoebe was devastated when her young groom ditched her on her wedding night. She believed that he didn’t want to be married to her because she was middle-class (though rich) and he was a lord. For 14 years she’s been receiving the monetary results of his piracy, but believes he doesn’t want anything to do with her. She suffered alone for 7 years, then put her big-girl panties on and made a life for herself. Yes, she has three children, but I don’t want to give away how she got them, because that’s one of the big questions at the heart of the novella.
So right out of the gate you have two people who already have a connection, the problems are laid out in simple elegance, and all that’s left is to untangle the knot. Of course, Griffin isn’t a skinny, nervous 17-year old anymore, and Phoebe takes one look at him, and he takes one look at her, and out pops the insta-lust. Usually I roll my eyes at insta-lust, but Eloisa sets it up perfectly with just enough detail about the character of these two people to make it credible. And as you would expect, the course of true lust never does run smooth.
I think the key to writing an effective novella and making things like insta-lust and heavy backstory – things that usually drag a novel down – work is to set things up just so. Every detail has to fit perfectly and serve a purpose. Novellas, like a Regency virgin, have to be tight. (Sorry, I had to)
I’d actually be interested to hear from anyone who has written novellas or who likes to read them particularly to hear your take on the form. Like I said, I have two novellas in mind that take place after The Courageous Heart that I’d like to write, and a few that take place in between books in my forthcoming A Duke and A Pirate series.
Next up, an actual paper-bound book that a friend from church gave me, Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Cruise. Yes, a fellow parishioner gave me a book called Welcome to Temptation to read. It’s a progressive church.