Writing Novellas, and What To Do With Them

Poor novella. You’re so misunderstood. Worse, you are wholly unappreciated for who you really are. At least, as far as I’ve seen. Most publishers don’t want to look at novellas, and no literary magazine’s got the room to run them.

And yet novella’s appear. Mostly by accident, but they appear. I’ve written a few just because there wasn’t enough of a story in my head to be a full novel, but still enough to be a really solid tale. In fact, I’m writing one on purpose now. But more on that later this year.

To start with, since there is some confusion about what constitutes a novella, the general word count is anywhere from 7,500 to 40,000. So, really, any story that’s too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel.

But what would you do with a story that size? Like I said, it’s hard to market that. Here, then, are some suggestions.

  • You could write multiple novellas that show a fantasy or science fiction world from different points of view, and package it as a novel.
  • You can self publish it as a way to start getting yourself out there as a writer with something a little more than short stories but not as lengthy as a novel.
  • You can write a novella, and then serialize it on your blog. (Cough, cough.)
  • If you’ve written a few, you can use them as a sort of sampler novel and self publish.
  • Also, there are actually contests and markets looking for novellas. Including this one, it’s not well known, maybe you’ve heard of it, Tor!

So it might be worth your time.

Funny story, the first time I wrote a novella, I was told by multiple people that a story of that length would never sell. According to them, I should add something to the story to make it longer. I am a fan of lean writing, but I listened. Why did I listen? Because young people are crippled by self doubt most of the time, and we can’t avoid taking advice from people we think must know better than us. That’s one of the perks of being 29, I’m not so susceptible to that shit anymore.

Anyway, I added a subplot that I wasn’t thrilled with, and drummed up some characters that felt uninspired. I added, and I fluffed, until my dark little mystery novella was novel sized and I hated most of it. I sent it out to some agents, and got a few requests for more material, but not a lot. Eventually I let the whole project go. Will I come back to it someday? Maybe. But I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be doing fine right now if I had just left it the hell alone in it’s novella form. Lesson learned.

If you’re going to write a novella, on purpose, here are some things you want to keep in mind to write a good one.

Do

  • Keep in mind that any story of any length requires solid writing.
  • Stick to just a few plotlines. You won’t have room for long winded side plots for your characters. To be fair, if you wanted to do long winded side plots, you’d be writing a novel anyway.
  • Pour just as much energy and creativity into plotting as you would a novel.
  • Devote just as much time to character research as you would a novel.
  • Give your story room to grow, by cutting the unnecessary fluff. Example, your character tells a cabi some dark secret, good. Your character tells a cabi some inane time passing story, bad.

Don’t

  • Use novella’s as an excuse to push out a project that you’re not really done with. If you’re not sure the ending is really worth the journey your reader took to get there, fix it. If your middle is sagging, fix it. If that makes your novella a novel then it was supposed to be one anyway.

 

What do you think of novellas? Have you ever read one that really speaks to you? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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