Friday, October 26, 2012

The Supplemental Novella Trend

I prefer reading long books (though I still haven't been brave enough to pick up GAME OF THRONES). I want to read CALICO JOE by John Grisham, but every time I look at it, I think, "why is this book so short?" and then I put it back down. Stupid, but true. I'm not a big fan of novellas, short stories, or novelettes when they're intended to stand alone.

But, the popularity of e-books has opened the door for savvy writers to keep their readers engaged between novel releases with electronic novellas/novelettes that supplement their series - and that, I think, is genius. What makes these shorter products work for me? They have the same finished, polished feel as their parent novels, and they add to stories I already want to know more about. Here are a few examples of supplemental/companion e-novellas I've come across:

SHADOW CATS by Rae Carson
I adore Rae Carson's work. GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS was probably my favorite book I read last year, and CROWN OF EMBERS was a highly enjoyable second effort. My only complaint was that, since I purchased book two in e-book form, I didn't notice I was getting close to the end. When the cliffhanger came, I flailed right over the ledge. And then I sent Rae an angry fan tweet, because I'm a mature Twitter user.

To cope with my cliffhanger distress, I grabbed up SHADOW CATS, which is a prequel to the series told from the main character's sister's point of view (not a particularly warm, beloved character in the series, but one with an interesting perspective).

What I love about Rae's writing style is that I never feel tempted to rush though anything. Each scene is good enough on its own, I'm not flying through the pages trying to find anticipated answers. SHADOW CATS was too short, and the plot doesn't have the same richness that the longer works have. It didn't give me the same amount of satisfaction, but I still got engrossed in the moment. It didn't reveal anything extraordinary, or build on the plot. If you skipped it, it wouldn't affect your enjoyment of the series as a whole. It's just a supplement - a bonus - and her writing style is especially well suited to this format.

SHADOW CATS does exactly what it's supposed to do - it gives you a peek into another corner of the world Rae built, and an opportunity to see into the mind of another character in that world. I'd love to see Rae do more of these; I trust her in this format.

DESTROY ME by Tahereh Mafi
I'll be interested to see whether or not this was truly just a supplement, or whether this actually did feed us subtle plot pieces that we'll need to know going forward. DESTROY ME is basically a collection of scenes told from Warner's first person point of view, and it works hard to build him as a sympathetic figure without stripping him of his villain role in the story. You wonder if he's redeemable... or if you even WANT him to be redeemable. It rounds him out and makes him feel more real.

I enjoyed reading this, which is surprising seeing as how it doesn't really have a stand-alone plot (something that I normally find infuriating). It's a different style than SHATTER ME, which helps you to appreciate how well done (and complicated) Tahereh's first book was. This supplemental novella is a perfect vehicle for her style. I'd buy episode after episode from her, even if she never wrote another full length novel.

FREE FOUR by Veronica Roth
I haven't read this one, but from what I understand about it, it's a little different approach which I think has a lot of potential. She rewrote part of her previously published book DIVERGENT from the point of view of one of her other characters. It made me think this concept of a supplemental e-book would have been delightful back when the TWILIGHT series was still in progress. Remember that leaked version that was all told from Edward's point of view? Everyone I talked to said they liked it better than the version that was actually published. Part of me wonders if that wasn't part of the original catalyst for the influx of electronic bonus content.

These tiny supplements give authors the freedom to take tangents. They let us see through another character's perspective, expand the world. They keep readers engaged by reminding us that more is coming. It's an appetizer - the kind that makes you a little angry when it's done and you're still hungry. I think these little e-novellas work best in a fantasy/action type of genre - the kind of setting that would benefit from giving us a wider angle lens to look through for awhile. But maybe I'm being short-sighted. Would this be effective for writers such as Stephanie Perkins or Miranda Kennealy, especially since their books aren't exactly series, but rather stand-alones that occur in the same living space? (A little research reveals that Miranda does have a novella - the list keeps growing).

Some other supplementals I'd like to see...

* I'm a snob when it comes to dual first-person narratives, so I think this might offer a nice alternative in some future instances. Imagine using shorter episodic e-books to reformat something like the NEVER SKY series (which I love... and which, by the way, DOES have a supplement), or the MATCHED series (which I enjoyed as a single narrator but struggled with once it went dual). Maybe even the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series, although I think it's phenomenal. I just feel like if a story is complicated enough that it demands two first-person points of view, then there might be an opportunity to grow and round things out with supplemental materials.

* The Chemical Garden Series. I was lukewarm on WITHER, (book one), but I adored FEVER (book 2). On Goodreads, I did find a "Wither 1.5" e-book called SEEDS OF WITHER, a prequel. I'd prefer to read something from Linden's point of view, given the option. In my imagination, it would probably be somewhat like DESTROY ME, which as I mentioned above, was a very smart product on the part of the Mafi.

* The SHADOW AND BONE series. A quick GoodReads search reveals that a 32-page 'companion' exists for this one, too, sooo I'm gonna have to wrap up this post and get to that.

* I know Cassie Clare and writers of her ilk have released extra content on their websites in the past. I'm not sure if these are quite the same thing, but it is very fan-friendly to offer up work for free.

* I'd like to see what the likes of Maureen Johnson and John Green would do with little e-novellas. I feel like that forum would give them an element of freedom their creative minds might enjoy taking advantage of... but then again, at this stage of their careers, they've already chosen other ways to supplement their fans' appetites (John has his vlogs, and Maureen is a tweeting machine and t-shirt designer).

What supplements would you like to see? Who has already done a good one that I left out? My theory that these novellas are best used for 'world building' is probably egregiously narrow, especially since DESTROY ME was basically a character study - how else could these be used to keep readers engaged between releases? What's the down side to supplemental novellas? Do you think they're worth the $1.99 - $2.99 price tag?

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