Writing Short when You’re Long-winded

by | Aug 15, 2010 | Fiction Book Reviews | 6 comments

I’m trying my hand at my very first novella. Anyone else had practice with that? It’s kind of tough for me to think in anything less that 75-90K words. I guess that goes along with being an extrovert/chatty sort of person, but thinking ‘short’ is tough.

The one short story I’ve written took three weeks to write – just because I had to keep condensing, and condensing, and chopping away some more to meet the 2500 word requirement.

It’s tough stuff writing short when you’re long-winded.

So I’m finished with chpt 1- a whopping 3400 words out of 20K. Will I make it? We’ll see. LOL

Here’s a glimpse at the first few pages. Get ready for some home-spun Appalachia and a look into the heart of 1917 Blue Ridge Mountains 😉

“He’s branging nothin’ but trouble with him, Caroline McAdams, make no bones about it.”         

 Imogene Lautner’s voice sliced into Laurel’s thoughts like lightnin’ on a cloudy night. Laurel slid further back into the hay of the loft, tucking her precious novel into the folds of her skirt and praying the voices might turn the other way. No such luck. The barn door groaned open, almost like it hated hearin’ Imogene’s complainin’ too. What was the use of bein’ a grown woman if she couldn’t even hide long enough to read one chapter of a book? Wasn’t there some kind of rule ‘bout grown-up time or something’?

“And you know I don’t wanna gossip ‘bout nobody, Caroline.”

Laurel rolled her eyes to the ceiling and prayed God wouldn’t strike Imogene down on the spot. True or false that woman could spin a yarn longer than Mark Twain, and stretch the truth from here to the horizon. Laurel gave up hope for a brief interruption, and tucked her book closer, sliding her palm across the gold lettering on the cover. Little Women.

“I gotta bad feelin’ about this missionary teacher. Somethin’s wrong with him. Come all the way from New York, and you know what kinda folks is from yonder. Rascals, Caroline. Rotten to the core.”

Him? The new teacher was a him?

“Now, Gene, we cain’t go jumpin’ to conclusions about him.” Laurel’s mama’s usual reaction. Calm. Peace. Laurel couldn’t help but smile. “Dun’t make sense, him comin’ all the way down here just to lead our younguns astray.”

“There ain’t nothin’ good come from the city. Nothin’.” Imogene bellowed on, her voice as harsh as Laurel’s mama’s was easy-goin’. “He even looks like trouble. Mavis saw him, didn’t ya, Mavis?”

“Came right down into Miss Cappy’s store last evenin’.” Mavis replied. “Fanciest giddup I ever did see, and a face as smooth as his voice. Smelled like the city.”

“You mean he smelled like sin.” Mrs. Lautner preached louder, causin’ the cows to scuttle about nervously. “Drawin’ you in and sickenin’ your soul. That’s what he’s gonna do, Caroline. You just wait and see. What we need to do is—“

“Pray?” Her mama’s word stopped the conversation dead. “I couldn’t agree more, Gene. We’ve been prayin’ for a new school teacher all summer long. God might not have sent what we expected, but we can’t deny Mr. Carson is an answer to prayer. School’s already startin’ two weeks later for lack of one.”

Praise God for her mama. At least one woman in that gaggle talked sense.

“Besides, he’s from the city. Course he’s gonna dress differnt than the likes of us. It’d be good to learn ‘bout the world outside o’ here. After all, many of our boys from the valley have gone across the world to fight in the War and−”

“Anything we can’t get or make back on our mountain, the good Lord ain’t never meant for us to have.”

Laurel balled up a fistful of skirt and almost threw her book from the loft, just to see if it’d knock some sense into Imogene. Of all the narrow-minded things to conjure up, Imogene Lautner ruled the mountain, and if somebody didn’t take in mind to help the new teacher, Imogene’d have the whole mountain convinced he was a worthless, peddler of sin.  

 “Imogene, Mavis, I heerd my rooster crowin’ last night, and just look at the sky.” Her mama tsked. “Sure ‘nough. That ol’ rooster must a’ bin right. Looks like rain.” Laurel glanced out the loft window at the afternoon sky, a few clouds passed over the sun, but nothin’ serious. Oh, how she loved her mama. Honey-coated clever, if she’d ever heard of it.

“Ya’ll might wanna git on home afore it starts. Ain’t you wearin’ your new store bought sweater, Gene?”

 “Well, now. If’n that rooster of yours crowed, ain’t no need to chance it.” Imogene hesitated. Laurel heard the shuffling of feet against dirt and the barn door open. “You comin’ to the store this week, Caroline?”

“Imagine so, gotta trade in some eggs, but for now I better make sure the milkin’s done afore the rain. Ya’ll have a good night, ya here?”

The two women’s muffled goodbyes disappeared behind the closed barn door, and silence returned. Welcome silence. Laurel sighed back against the hay and opened the novel, but curiosity interrupted her concentration. Missionary teacher? From New York City? Her lips came unhinged and she clutched the book to her chest. He probably went to college too. Most teachers from the city do. Maybe he even got a two-year degree.

Her gaze flitted to the far corner of the barn, where her precious stash of savings hid at the base of the post. Six more months workin’ for Mrs. Cappy was all it’d take.

“Come on down here, Laurel.”

Laurel’s shoulders fell forward in defeat and she snapped the book closed.  It wasn’t like she didn’t know the novel by heart, anyway. She moved to the edge of the loft and looked down into her mama’s hazel eyes. “How’d you know I was here?”

 “I’m your mama, girl.” Her mama placed her hands on her hips as if that explanation was enough. “Which book ya readin’ now?”

 “Little Women.”

“Ain’t you read that’n plenty of times afore?”

Laurel shrugged and felt a grin stretch across her face. “Yes ma’am, but I never git tired of it. Good stories are always worth another read, Mama.”

Her mama nodded her head as if she understood and Laurel felt a spark of guilt dampen her thrill. Her Mama hadn’t ever learned the joy of readin’.

“Come on down here, girl. I gotta a job for you to do right quick.”

Laurel blew a strand of hair from her face as she shimmied down the loft ladder. What other chore could Mama possibly want her to do? She’d finished all her mornin’ chores well before church.

“You need to git down to the mission house and invite the new teacher for supper.”



  1. misskallie2000

    Hi Pepper, I love your chapter 1 and can’t wait to read the entire book. I am from the South and love stories about the South.. Good luck and Blessings sent your way.

  2. Pepper

    Hi Misskallie,
    Thanks so much for the kind words and a great big ‘hidee ya’ll’ from one southerner to the next 🙂

  3. Keli Gwyn

    Pepper, I hear you on the challenge of keeping it short. I’m a long-winded writer who’s learned to make friends with the delete key.

    Have fun on your short story.

    • Pepper

      Okay, Keli
      I think we should co-author an article called
      “Lessons in Using the Delete Key”

  4. Regina Merrick

    Sounds great, Pepper! Makes me want to meet that new teacher-man! 🙂

    • Pepper

      He’s awful cute, REgina. I think you’ll like him 😉


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