Wednesday, February 8, 2017

4 Unleashing the Dragon: Tips for Writing Companion Novellas with Laurie Forest

Companion novellas are a popular with readers and writers as a way to sustain interest in a series between major book releases. They offer readers a standalone fix and give writers a way to dive into a unique character or develop the fictional world in a way not possible in the main narrative.

Writer Laurie Forest will kick off her series, The Black Witch Chronicles, with the release of the wonderful THE BLACK WITCH in May and will follow up with the July release of her companion novella, WANDFASTED. I got to talk with Laurie about the process of creating a novella, from idea to execution.

Kelly deVos: First of all, what made you decide to write a companion novella? Did you come up with the idea at the same time you wrote the first book? Or later on?
Laurie Forest: When Harlequin TEEN expressed an interest in signing me on for THE BLACK WITCH CHRONICLES, they surprised me be asking for two novellas as part of the contract. Apparently, this is becoming more common when fantasy series are signed on (to maintain reader interest in the series). They floated the idea of a prequel where the reader gets a glimpse of the original Black Witch “in action”. I loved the idea but was terrified by it – especially since the original idea was to have the novella come out BEFORE my book. I had worked on Book One and Book Two and part of Book Three of the Black Witch series for YEARS with multiple writing groups. I didn’t have a lot of time to write this prequel novella (about 6 months for a rough draft) – and it would potentially be the first thing reviewers/readers would see of my writing (yipes!). But then, I just dove in, and after a few false starts (which were also terrifying because my writing groups were basically saying “um, no” to my initial chapters) – I eventually found my groove and my inspiration – and now I love WANDFASTED as much as I love THE BLACK WITCH!

KD: Was this something that your publisher purchased along with your series or did they get involved at a later date?

KD: One thing that fascinates me about companion novellas is that they’re usually centered on an element of a book, like a character or a particular event, that is intriguing in the main novel without being too distracting from the major storylines. Without going into too much detail, WANDFASTED deals with the relationship between two warring groups, a conflict briefly explored in THE BLACK WITCH. To me, this seems tough and a bit of a balancing act. Did you have to revise both works simultaneously to make sure they worked together? Or did the BLACK WITCH story just naturally lend itself to creating companion pieces?
LF: Well, I had some leeway with the story since WANDFASTED takes place approximately 20 years prior to THE BLACK WITCH. There were a few details that needed to be streamlined to make the narratives fit cleanly together, but the time difference really helped with the process. My current novella was much trickier – because it takes place during the year before THE BLACK WITCH opens, and it’s about a side character, Sage Gaffney – and how she came to possess to White Wand (there was some modification to THE BLACK WITCH that had to me made to make Sage’s short scene fit with the novella – also, Sage wanted to be a lot more badass than I realized, so I do have to completely rewrite her character in BOOK TWO of THE BLACK WITCH series). This second novella’s topic was also chosen by Harlequin TEEN.

I do think WANDFASTED adds to THE BLACK WITCH because it gives a glimpse into the type of horrific prejudice the Gardnerians were subjected to – so the reader can better understand why they became so reactionary and eventually so fascist. It complicates the narrative and I think that’s a good thing. It was also great fun writing some older BLACK WITCH characters as young people (and this is why the novella is being published after THE BLACK WITCH comes out – it’s much more interesting to read AFTER the first book – and there are some spoilers in the novella).

KD: What was the writing process like? Was it easier? Faster? Or more difficult.
LF: Terrifying and difficult at first. And then, once I forced myself to forget the audience and pressure and pretend I was just writing for myself – it started to fall into place. It was also quite enjoyable because this was my first stab at straight on fantasy romance ;)

KD: One thing that’s interesting about WANDFASTED is that the pace is very fast. We get dragons right away in the novella! Was that an intentional writing decision? The result of a shorter format?
LF: Dragons & action right away was intentional, as this was the whole purpose of the novella, and what Harlequin TEEN asked of me – a glimpse of the original Black Witch in action. And I was eager to write a front-lines scene – which was a challenge and required multiple rewrites and critique from my writing groups. And, yes, I suppose, for me, this is a shorter format, lol (this is, in reality, an e-book novel – it will probably be around 300-350 pages or so when formatted for Kindle, etc.).

KD: The sheer amount of writing you’ve produced seems very intimidating – almost overwhelming to someone getting started. Any advice for writers beginning what they hope will develop into a comprehensive series?

LF: Try to write every day. Write for yourself and forget the outside world. Try to read other people’s books every day and immerse yourself in whatever inspires you as much as you can (movies, art, culture, etc.). Then, after you have a draft, or a portion of a draft, join a writing critique group and revise, revise, revise (I read somewhere recently that there is no good writing, only good re-writing and I think there’s some truth to that). Half the fun of this is surprising yourself with the story – the story kind of takes on a life of its own, I find. And don’t just write when you’re inspired. Just keep writing – eventually you’ll find some inspiration. One of my favorite quotes is “The muse can’t resist a working writer” as well as Jack London’s quote “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” Also, revise until you like what you’ve got – and that needs to be your main goal (pleasing yourself). Then screw up your courage and show it to the world. You will, in the end, have a book you like and have met some incredible writers/readers – and publication might happen as well!

When they painted "Heretics" on our barn and set fire to it, I thought that was the worst it could get. 

Until they sent the dragons.

But they didn't count on us having dragons of our own. And they certainly didn't count on Her. Our Great Mage. The Bringer of Fire. The Storm of Death. The Crow Sorceress. Our Deliverance.

The Black Witch.

Goodreads | Amazon

About Laurie Forest
Laurie Forest lives deep in the backwoods of Vermont where she sits in front of a wood stove drinking strong tea and dreaming up tales full of dryads, dragons and wands. The Black Witch (May 2017, HarlequinTEEN) is her first novel, and Wandfasted (The Black Witch prequel, Summer 2017, HarlequinTEEN) is her first e-book novella.
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  1. Thanks for sharing! This was great to hear and very encouraging for us writers just trying to put together a good story :)

  2. Hey, Laurie, congratulations! I started reading this post and thought, "Wait, I know this book!" Thrilled that I'll finally get to find out what happens. I thought about you today while I was revising because I hit a particularly good adverb.

  3. Thank you for the tips! Great conversation you did! I would like to write my poem! Hope with your advices I will be able to do it. You know, if you want to write and don't have a job, I advise you a writing job online It is a great service for working as a writer.


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