3 Tips On Writing Your Very Own Novella
Advice from an author with two published books.
Novellas are a curious breed. According to a quick Google search, a novella is classified as something between a short novel or a long short story, which are typically between 60–100 pages or 7,500 to 40,000 words. They have fewer pages and words than a full-length novel, and vice versa when compared to a short story. Think of novellas as the weird middle child in the family with three children, one which the parents do not love as much as the first child (novels) but understand better than their last child (short stories).
Although novellas are not as popular as full-length novels, the role they play in a writer’s journey to author-hood is no less significant. Most authors have written one or two novellas before they publish their own full-length novel; the lessons they learned from crafting short form fiction pays dividends when they begin to write their own worlds into existence.
Writing novellas teaches writers about story pacing, character motivations, clear plots and its twists. It helps writers grasp the fundamental basics of writing fiction before they’re ready to move on to writing a bigger, better and a fully-fleshed out novel of their own.
As someone who is on this journey myself, as well as having published two novellas, here are my tips on writing your very own novella:
Plan out stories in advance
The notion that planning is important for any manuscript rings true for novellas in particular. Being as short as it is, you need to take some time out to plan what you’re going to write in a very limited number of chapters — between 6-10 is a good sized novella, in my opinion. The key is to make sure that there is not only adequate pacing — in terms of the story beats — when reading the novel, but also that the key points of what you want to convey are also done in a way that is as broad yet concise as possible.
For example, before I wrote ‘Codebreaker: An Alexander Hastings Novella’, I took a moment to sit down to plan out the basic plot points of the novella such as the theme, the characters, the number of chapters, the topic or plot point each chapter will address, and the twists along the way. Each chapter should take no longer than a few minutes to read yet convey enough information that the reader is still pulled into the temporary world you’ve created and is willing to go on for the ride until the end of your novella.
A linear story with a clear ending
As it is a form of short or flash fiction, it is important to get your story straight from the word ‘go’. When writing novellas, there is very limited space that can be dedicated to explore stories that are an aside from the main plot of the novella. A linear structure is required, with a clear beginning, a plot twist or two in the middle, and a satisfying ending, all the while maintaining a tight structure in terms of plot. You need to know where your story is headed from the very beginning with little to no time dedicated to fleshing out themes and plot lines that have no bearing on the main story.
For example, when I was writing ‘Dear Diary’, it was important to ensure that the message of the novella was clear to the readers from the word ‘go’ — that this was a puppy love story with strong hints of unrequited love, the emotional and mental devastation that occurs because of it, and the mature option of moving on with your life.
That meant making sure the story beats were clear as well, from the protagonist meeting the object of her puppy love in the first chapter, developing their relationship at a rapid yet clear pace in the second chapter, the ultimate betrayal occurring in the third chapter, and dedicating the last chapter to the satisfying conclusion of getting up and moving on with life.
Characters with clear motivations
A good novella has good characters, especially for a novella. With so few pages, writers must ensure that the protagonist’s personality, goals, relationships with others, and their general arc fits neatly within a couple of chapters. Without the luxury of having endless pages to tell the story, what the protagonist wants to achieve and how they achieve it must be explained clearly and concisely within the first chapter of the novella.
Characters in novellas may appear more straight-laced than a fully-fleshed out version in a full novel, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t write a good character. For example, in both Codebreaker and Dear Diary, the protagonists had a clear goal and personality, from rugged but technologically savvy detectives in the former and a hopeless romantic turned mature woman in the latter. With clear motivations, it is easier to steer a character-driven plot, making your novella into a riveting page-turner on an equal scale of excitement and suspense as a full-blown novel.
Implement the three tips above and you’ll soon be on your way to novella stardom.