Where's My Hero? by Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn and Kinley MacGregor
First of all, I generally love Lisa Kleypas's books. In fact, I have another book of hers on deck for a raving review, and she's the name that pulled me to this book when I saw it on the library shelf. But this book was... well, underwhelming. So why post it on this blog? As a reading writer, this book prompted me to think about the novella vs. the novel.
Where's My Hero is a collection of three short novellas about already established minor characters in popular books these three writers have written, so the set-up has potential. In fact, Kleypas's story features a guest appearance by one of her all-time most well-loved heroes, Derek Craven. But none of these stories truly engaged me, so I wanted to look at why. One could argue that these simply aren't the authors' best stories, but it's interesting that all three of the novellas had the same problem: a romance path that was well plotted but (in my opinion) fell a little flat in execution. Was it something to do with the premise or the approach?
I'm most familiar with Kleypas as a writer, so I'll take her story as an example. In novels, she's not much for love at first sight; rather, her stories take time to build tension. By the time the characters get together, they've been through quite a lot of emotional back-and-forth, making their union a satisfying relief. In other words, the "action" in the book comes to life because of the relationships that we're following, not because of the sexy descriptions alone.
Reading Kleypas's "Against the Odds" felt like reading the Cliff Notes for a romance. Though the time frame had been cut down--the story take place over days instead of weeks--the relationship progression is approached as if this were a novel: Impending marriage to the "right" guy for "good" reasons, a history of mutual feelings and misunderstandings with the "wrong" guy, circumstances that finally throw them together, overcoming their misunderstandings, a sexual encounter, and, finally, a decision to marry the "wrong," (now right) guy, followed by gaining her parents' approval. Sounds like enough conflict to fill a novel, doesn't it?
But the novella doesn't have this luxury of space. Which means that writers like Kleypas might need to change their approaches when it comes to shorter forms. A romance needs internal and external conflicts to resolve for both the characters, conflicts that should be relatively neatly resolved into a happy ending. That's asking a lot out of a short piece, which explains why an author as experienced as Kleypas might still struggle with a short novella. But what are some solutions? What approaches to romance work in a shorter format?
I'm now on a search for the answer. I'm looking for romance novellas that work well, with satisfying character arcs that don't feel like condensed versions of the real stories. I'll get back to you when I find one!