In the frantic pace of today’s publishing world—particularly indie fiction—writers are expected to put out frequent work to satisfy the cravings of their fans. If you’re driving yourself crazy trying to publish three to five novels a year, you can probably write one—sandwiched between a couple of novellas.
The form is generally considered to be about eighteen to twenty-five thousand words in length, although some people say it’s anything up to forty thousand words. But in my mind, writing a long novella defeats the purpose of the format. Instead, think of a story you can write short. (More on that later.)
You can use the novellas as stand-alone stories to add books to a series. Or you can put them into a collection—either several of your own works or in a “boxed set” with other authors.
I’ve done all three—bulking up my Decorah Security series with several novellas, putting out a Decorah Security Collection with one novel and several novellas, and joining with other authors in four different boxed sets, where we each contribute material that showcases our individual talents.
I also have an Off-World series—science-fiction romances from mankind’s far-flung future—which are all novellas and short stories.
Some writers fear the novella format because they are used to the luxury of “writing long.” The novella gives you a chance to see what you can do in fewer words.
What elements should a good novella have? The same elements as a good novel. Characters who grab the reader, a plot that keeps her turning the pages, and enough background detail to draw her into your world.
You've got to focus very tightly on the main story—on the hero and heroine. Usually, each scene is shorter than it would be in a novel. And you might skip some episodes that you'd put into a novel. I wrote one novelette (an even shorter format—under eighteen thousand words), "Conquest," for an anthology called IN OUR DREAMS, where I had only three scenes. When the H/h first make love. When he leaves her because he thinks she’s betrayed him. And when he came crawling back on his knees. I thought of the structure like a three-act play. The time frame was about six months—with just those three scenes telling the whole story.
For a novella, you MUST think of a story that can be told quickly. The whole process begins with your outline/proposal, where you evaluate if you've set up a story that works within the short word count.
My tongue-in-cheek advice for plotting a novella—write about a man and a woman locked in a room together, reacting to each other. Or, keep the extraneous material to a minimum. In my own case, I think writing category romance helped prepare me for novella writing, because in a category, you have to stay tight and focused.
You can train yourself to “think small” and use these shorter pieces to add to your published work. It’s a good way to maintain a steady output and still keep from going crazy trying to write four or five full-length novels a year.
Do you like reading novellas? How about writing them?
Posted by Ruth Glick
Filed as: The Writing Life, Writing Tips, Rebecca York, novella, writing advice