Short Stories & Novellas- Workshop Day I – Plotting

FYI, I will be checking in on the blog when I can, but I wrote this before I left for Alaska, and while you’re reading this, I’m up in the land of the midnight sun, so chances are, I’m not thinking of blogging and workshops.

However, I’ll be sure to look through comments when I get back, so if you have questions, comments, whatever, feel free to leave them in comments. Wanting more info about LB&LI08? Go here.


Left Behind & Loving It 2008

although I’m not exactly here to be left behind anyway…but that’s beside the point

Writing a short story/novella


So the two main issues I read when I asked about novella gripes were:

  • Plotting
  • Characterization

And I pretty much figured that, just because I’ve asked the question before or readers have commented it to me.

The thing is, it’s possible to write a short story or a novella with a decent plot and decent characterization. You just have to remember a few things ahead of time. Today, I want you to remember K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple, Stup…uh, fill in the blank with another S word. 😉 Sorry, it was a comment one of my old high school teachers used to say-I always loved it.

But you do need to keep it simple. If you’re writing a story in under a hundred pages, you can’t easily have two strangers meet, overcome multiple villians, save the world and still have time to fall in love-and if it’s erotic romance, fall in love and have sex in the progress. It doesn’t work.

You could have two total strangers fall in love…or at least begin the slide.

Or you could have two people who’ve already met-and they realize they belong together.


Making the choice on what genre to write is going to play a lot into how well you can plot the book and craft the characters in the page limit.

If you’re planning on a fantasy or paranormal world, ask yourself if you can keep the world building cohesive and still have time to focus on the main plot and the characters. That world building in a fantasy/paranormal is just as important to most readers as the characters themselves and the plot. If you’re going to have to skimp somewhere in order to keep the story shorter, maybe don’t make that book a short story.

Novellas and short stories don’t easily allow for complex plot and complex characters, especially if it’s a genre that will require world building as well.


Think about the conflict you’ve chosen:

  • Is it simple?
  • Is it easily believable? If it isn’t, it’s more than likely you’re going to need more page space to sell that idea to the reader-not good for a novella/short story.

You want simple:

  • Simple isn’t bad, not for a short story or novella.
  • Simple means no loose ends that leave the reader going….huh? at the end of the story.
  • Simple leaves more room for character development and resolution of the conflict.

You need believable:

  • If it’s way out there, chances are you’re going to throw the reader out of the story.
  • If it isn’t believable at first, you’ll need more page space to sell the idea to the reader. More page space means one of two things: 1) You’ll need to write a longer story-that’s fine, some stories are meant to be short stories…others aren’t. or 2) You could too easily end up consciously or unconsciously skimping somewhere else. Skimping is bad.


Focus on main story and leave out the extraneous details. Do we really need to know:

  • The character’s entire backstory?
  • Weather details
  • Travel details and extensive depictions of setting.


if it’s vital to the story, yes…otherwise, probably not.


vital to the story? If not, skip it

Travel details and extensive depictions of setting:

Skip it. These tend to get boring anyway, unless something really cool happens during the trip-or if the entire story takes place on a road trip.

The story needs to have a simple plot, so you can focus on that plot and the characters, getting them their HEA. And I think I’m going to do a mini-shop on that HEA. Because that is one thing that can throw me out of a story, how the HEA is reached.

Just as an example for a short story I wrote, and it’s still one of my best sellers, even five years after it’s release.

The basic plot:

Hero has been in love with the heroine all his life. He joined the Navy right out of high school, discharged when he was injured in the line of duty and comes back, planning on asking her out, hoping she’ll fall in love with him.

The main conflict is that the heroine was dating to somebody else and shortly before the story opens, they became engaged.

Instead of giving up, he starts sending the heroine little gifts-he becomes her secret admirer.

It was nothing complicated. It was a fun, easy story to write and it’s a story that many, many readers have written to me about.

And for the curious… the book is titled Whipped Cream & Handcuffs. FYI, it’s got a new cover, it just hasn’t been added yet…although that could change in between me writing this post and it going live. 😉

A useful site for short story tips…

Short Stories: 10 Tops for Creative Writers

Make sure you check out PBWs blog, because I’m sure she’s going to list the others who have participating in the LEFT BEHIND AND LOVING IT party.

and just a quick disclaimer…this was written kind of on the fly because I’m ttttthhhiiiissss close to finishing a book and also getting ready for my trip. If I don’t make sense…well, I never make sense to myself, but if there is something I wasn’t clear about, just let me know and I’ll hopefully be able to address it when my brain returns to normal.

Also, because PBW told me to, because it might make it more fun, I’ll be doing a giveaway…anybody that comments (and uh… I don’t consider, oh, how nifty! a comment) and/or adding to the discussion will entered into a drawing for a prize…probably something I’ll pick up in Alaska and a copy of Private Places since I anticipate finding my author copies upon my return home.