by Racheline Maltese
Naturally, I have about two different lengths I write at: 3,000 words and 70,000 words. While my co-author and I have sold pieces at both of those lengths, we’ve learned quickly that being able to produce stories at a lot of other lengths is also valuable, not just in terms of creating material to submit to publishers but in terms of creating stories that can act as a gateway into our other work.
In many ways, at 12,000 words Evergreen is the story my co-author and I never meant to write. It’s set between the first and second books in our LGBT romance series, and it focuses on the relationship between secondary and tertiary characters. It’s also not a length that’s natural for us as writers.
But part of how Evergreen will ultimately succeed for us has to do with writing at that length we hadn’t previously explored. With 12,000 words we found enough room to show character and conflict in a way that hopefully makes readers want to know more, while also giving them a very clear HEA.
For me, learning to write at different lengths has come from two things: My background in journalism and my love of television. Journalism teaches me that there’s always a simpler way to say something if I need to save a few words or sentences. Television teaches me that story structure varies by show length. In the U.S., a half-hour network comedy is 22 minutes when you account for commercials. A cable comedy without commercials will often run a little longer. A 27-minute show without a commercial break has a very different structure than a 22-minute show with several. These stylistic differences become even more pronounced when you look at hour-long and movie-length programming.
To write a shorter mid-series story that would also stand alone, Erin and I quickly realized we’d have to write a “monster of the week” episode designed to fall between season 1 (that is, book 1) and season 2 (book 2, which is out in January) of our series. Once we understood the story’s function and structure in terms of the television we’d been watching our whole lives, it became much easier to figure out what needed to be told and how. It also became easier to understand what pieces of the story we’d have to hold back for another occasion.
For writers who want to branch out from their natural storytelling lengths, there is no quick answer. Like anything in writing, sometimes you just have to hammer at it until it works. But the mental exercise of imagining your stories (and other people’s) in different formats helps build the muscles that can have you writing -- and selling -- at different lengths.♥
Racheline Maltese co-writes the Love in Los Angeles LGBT romance series with Erin McRae. Set in the film and television industry, the books Starling (September 10, 2014), Doves (January 21, 2015), and Phoenix (June 10, 2015)) are available from Torquere Press. Their May/December "gay for you" novella Midsummer will be released Summer 2015 by Dreamspinner Press. You can also find their work in Best Gay Romance 2015 edited by Felice Picano and published by Cleis Press.