Saturday, 5 March 2016

Guest Post - How to Write Short Romance by Alison May - RNA Awards Week

Novellas are very much in fashion at the moment. The development of ebooks has made publishing shorter titles a much more economically viable proposition, and that’s jolly good news for me, because novellas are actually marvellous fun to write. And one of my novellas, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, is shortlisted in the RoNA Rose category of the RoNA awards this year, so I’m clearly super qualified to wax lyrical about all things short romance related. Here goes…

The first question I’m always asked about writing novellas is ‘How long is a novella?’ to which my answer is a very eloquent, ‘Well… erm… sort of…. Well… it depends.’ And that’s true. There isn’t an official Council of Books where Big Important Authors sit and decide where the boundaries between short story, novella and novel ought to sit. I’ve published three novellas and they vary from 30,000 words to 48,000 words. I know other authors who’ve published novella as short as 15,000 words. Essentially the right length for your story (whether it’s a novel, novella or short story) is the length that the story needs it to be – although if your story needs to be 500,000 words long you might want to think about telling a simpler story at least until you reach JK Rowling or George RRRRRRRRR Martin levels of success.

I’ve heard it said as well, that a novella should always be super straight forward in terms of the plotting and structure. A novel can take in sub-plots and multiple timelines and multiple points of view. A novella has to travel much more directly along its main storyline from inciting incident to crisis to resolution. At least that seems to be the received wisdom. 

Unfortunately I struggle to write that way. I like a flashback. I like stories with multiple timelines and points of view, and Cora’s Christmas Kiss is probably the most complex story I’ve written. It has two viewpoint characters (or maybe four – it’s complicated) and two timelines (or possibly three – as I said it’s complicated!) all in a tiny festive bitesize package. With jokes. And whole lot of falling in love to fit in as well. 

So, so far my advice on writing short romance comes down to:

1. Make it as long as it needs to be.
2. Tell it however you want to tell it.

And that’s good advice, but I do have to concede that it’s a tad nebulous, but that’s the problem with writing advice. Nobody can write your book for you. Nobody can even tell you how to write your book, because it’s your book. The most useful writing advice that anyone can offer is simply to get on and write your book.

But finally I do have one non-nebulous titbit to offer about writing short romance. Remember that the depth of the story still has to be there. You don’t make a story shorter by taking out the intensity of emotion, especially in a romance – romance is all about emotion. You might go lighter on the subplots. You might construct of really short timeline over which your hero and heroine (or hero and hero, or heroine and sentient robot  etc. – really whatever floats your boat) get together, but you can’t compromise on emotional punch. The lows still have to hurt. The highs still have to lift your reader out of their own lives and into the joy of your characters. Short doesn’t mean slight when it comes to making the feelings in your story come alive.

About Alison May
Alison was born and raised in North Yorkshire, but now lives in Worcester with one husband, no kids and no pets. There were goldfish once. That ended badly.

She studied History and Creative Writing, and worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, and a freelance trainer, before settling on ‘making up stories’ as an entirely acceptable grown-up career plan.

Alison is a qualified teacher specialising in adult education, a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors, and an experienced creative writing teacher.

She write contemporary romantic comedy novels, including the Christmas Kiss series, Sweet Nothing and Midsummer Dreams. She won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge Trophy in 2012, and has been shortlisted in the RoNAs and the Love Stories Awards.

You can find out more about Alison at, by following her on twitter @MsAlisonMay or on facebook at 

About Cora’s Christmas Kiss 
(Amazon UK)
Can you expect a perfect Christmas after the year from hell? 

Cora and Liam have both experienced horrible years that have led them to the same unlikely place – spending December working in the Grotto at Golding’s department store.

Under the cover of a Father Christmas fat suit and an extremely unflattering reindeer costume, they find comfort in sharing their tales of woe during their bleak staffroom lunch breaks.

But is their new-found friendship just for Christmas? Or have they created something deeper, something that could carry them through to a hopeful new year?

Thank you so much Alison for this informative piece. I completely agree that novellas need to have emotion and pack a punch, which must be why I'm loving your Christmas Kiss series. 

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