The World in a Drop of Water: Writing on the Small Stage

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved a science book called The World in a Drop of Water. (The link is to what I assume to be a newer edition.) For some reason, my imagination was captured by the idea of the "wee beasties" that swim and feed and reproduce in their tiny kingdoms. I begged a kid's microscope out of Santa that Christmas, checked out my brother's blood cells, mosquito larvae, and my sister's fine, blond hairs, and ended up a little disappointed that what I saw wasn't nearly as vivid as the photos in that book or the pictures painted in my imagination.

I still love the idea of an entire world in microcosm. I often write romantic suspense set in very tiny towns, where everyone's in everyone else's business and any individual can take on myriad roles. While other writers find charm and warmth within "closed systems," in my stories, I play up small towns for the creep factor and weave a complex fabric of relationships.

At the moment, however, I'm dealing with a different kind of small stage. After writing sixteen consecutive novel manuscripts topping ninety thousand words each (most are over a hundred), I have fewer than thirty thousand words to tell my story, a novella I'm writing for a "two in one" edition for a new-to-me publisher. At the start, I wondered how I'd manage, since I'm forever in danger of running over on my word counts for even my full length book.

But I'm fascinated with the challenge, which is forcing me to think more like a playwright and economize on the narrative, descriptions, everything. But not on the emotion, since I'm getting to "the good stuff" early. And to my surprise, I'm enjoying the heck out of this shake up in the status quo.

So what new techniques or material have you attempted lately? Have you enjoyed the change or hated it? What refreshes you as a writer?


jennymilch said…
I don't have much to add beyond, Wow, Colleen! Don't know if I could ever do this, but I really admire you for taking it on and am excited to read the result.

Stephen King's novellas--especially those he wrote as Richard Bachman--always struck me as stand outs for the medium. I know it's possible for a tale to be writ large in a small number of words.

But finding those words...

Personally speaking, I refresh myself by reading fiction, which goes on hiatus for me during a first draft. But the time I (mentally) type "the end" I am so thirsty for a novel, reading one is instant refreshment.

Maybe next time I'll read a novella, too...
EmilyBryan said…
I just turned in my first ever novella (A CHRISTMAS BALL due out Sept. 09) and it really is a different animal altogether. Like a haiku, there can be no filler, no wasted words. In some respects, it's freeing because the story has to pop along at such a brisk pace, there's no chance at all of a "sagging middle."

I'm sure you'll manage it splendidly!
Thanks so much, Jenny, for your comment... and for offering to give it a try when it comes out.

Thanks to you, too, Emily, for the vote of confidence. I wish you all the best with A CHRISTMAS BALL!

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