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True to form: A champion of mid-length fiction writes a primer on how to craft a novella

Sharon Oard Warner will give a remote talk via Zoom about “Writing the Novella” at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 28. To sign up for the remote and links go to bkwrks.com and click on “Register Now.” The book will also be the basis for a class with Zoom meetings she will remotely teach for the University of Iowa’s Summer Writers’ Workshop. The class starts May 17 and runs for five weeks. To register, she said, go to the website for the university’s summer writing festival aimed at adult learners and those interested in writing.

Sharon Oard Warner will give a remote talk via Zoom about “Writing the Novella” at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 28. To sign up for the remote and links go to bkwrks.com and click on “Register Now.” The book will also be the basis for a class with Zoom meetings she will remotely teach for the University of Iowa’s Summer Writers’ Workshop. The class starts May 17 and runs for five weeks. To register, she said, go to the website for the university’s summer writing festival aimed at adult learners and those interested in writing.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The novel and the short story are considered the major forms of fiction.

And there’s a less publicized form that sits in between them in length. That form is the novella.

Sharon Oard Warner

Sharon Oard Warner

“I do think the novella is in the shadows, particularly of the novel,” said Sharon Oard Warner, author of the recently published “Writing the Novella.” It is, she said, the first book just on the craft of writing this intermediate-length as a distinct literary form.

“I feel the publishing industry in the United States has relegated it to the shadows,” Warner said in a phone interview from her home in Austin, Texas. Publishing companies, she said, market the novella as a novel so they can get more revenue from fewer pages.

One example she gave is Don DeLillo’s “The Silence,” published last fall. Though 128 pages, it is billed as “a novel” on the front cover.

Warner isn’t critical of DeLillo or any author for writing fiction of this length. Not at all. Her criticism is strictly of the publishing industry. She said it does a disservice to authors and to their readers by mislabeling an important category in literature.

Mid-length fiction is no stranger to literature. Indeed, many are famous works. There’s “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin, and “The House on Mango Street,” Sandra Cisneros’ classic of Chicano literature, to name a few. In fact, Warner uses examples from Cisneros’ and two other authors’ novellas as touchstones to explain “key concepts and illuminate issues of craft and technique” in “Writing the Novella.”

Warner herself is a published author of short stories and novels. She also wrote a novella as her master’s thesis in creative writing from the University of Kansas in 1984. Titled “Treading Water,” the novella has definitely lived in the shadows: It was never formally published.

“It was a fictionalized version of the death of a close friend who died unexpectedly, and the aftermath. I don’t know why I didn’t ever send it out (to publishing houses). I think it’s too late,” Warner said, reluctantly adding, “It’s something I’ll look into.”

When she was a professor at the University of New Mexico – she retired in 2018 after 23 years – Warner said she developed a graduate-level class called “The Novella Workshop” that she taught a number of times and won a teaching award for it.

Warner thinks that if someone is interested in writing fiction longer than a short story, but isn’t ready to develop a full-length novel, the novella is a good place to start.

She designed the UNM class so that students would be working on major plot points and writing scenes. That’s the way “Writing the Novella” is organized. The book is flexible enough that it can be used in a class or by an independent writer or, for that matter, by anyone, Warner explained.

In terms of length, she said, novellas are more similar to screenplays than to novels. In her book there’s a good deal of overlap in how to write both forms. “You have one narrative arc, with maybe one or two subplots. So they’re more linear,” she said.

Warner now teaches a screenwriting class at UNM. She is a professor emerita of English Language and Literature.

Warner also started and directed the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, which ran for 18 years, and she is co-chair of UNM’s D.H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives. Lawrence, the British writer and poet, was the muse for the writers’ conference.

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