In the seventeenth instalment of Novella November – Griffith Review‘s month-long celebration of novella form – Brisbane-based writer Daniel Young describes the journey from 55,000-word manuscript to published novella.
A winner of The Novella Project VI, Young’s novella ‘Shanghai wedding’ was published in Griffith Review 62: All Being Equal – The Novella Project VI.
I NEVER INTENDED to write a novella. The initial manuscript for ‘Shanghai wedding’ hit 55,000 words with plans to extend further, so the journey to the 14,000-word novella in All Being Equal involved a lot of cutting – but there’s more to it than that. While I already appreciated the novella as its own unique form, cutting words wasn’t enough to get there with my own manuscript. It needed something more.
I donned my ruthless editor’s hat for the initial submission and brought it down to 20,000 words. It hurt. I cut out entire characters and their stories; I merged sequences of separate chapters into single running scenes; and I tried to ensure a single coherent story remained in the wake of these cuts. It worked to an extent – my submission was successful – but there were plenty of problems. The big one? It didn’t feel like a novella.
Editorial feedback gave me the perspective I needed, and the tools to help me transform the manuscript from a cut-down novel to a novella. This involved more cutting, in particular a whole chapter of historical backstory which detracted from the most novella-like quality: intense focus on the central story – the relationship between the characters Billy and Qiang. In parts where I’d hacked chapters together and made cuts, transitions were awkward and needed smoothing. Some cut details needed reintroducing in order to maintain coherence and avoid disorienting the reader. Certain themes seemed too heavy-handed at this shorter length, so I toned them down. The story’s interleaved timeline had become too choppy – the overall temporal structure remains now, but with fewer shifts in time and improved transitions.
It’s all so obvious now, and it shouldn’t be surprising that working with a professional editor helped bring the final product closer to what I already knew a novella should be. There’s a difference between knowing these things and finding the clarity to break through your own subjectivity and achieve them in your own manuscript. While I still have plans to expand the novella into something larger, right now the most important thing is that this published version has had the chance to be the best novella it can be.