To Novella or not to Novella? That is the question

On today’s Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog, we were joined by fellow-RNA member, Liz Harris. Liz became a published writer two years ago with a novel and novella published in 2012. She spoke to us about writing novellas and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today.

If you don’t know what a novella is or if you do and would like to find out more, you may like to start by checking out our blog post from Liz:

Got it? So, in very stripped-back terms, it’s basically a novel but a lot shorter, with fewer characters and one main plot rather than a sub-plot or several running alongside it. A writing friend had her first book published last year as well as a novella and said that the novella sold really well. This could be because it was a Christmas one and, with the stress and hectic-ness (if that’s not a word, it should be) of Christmas, perhaps readers feel they have time to read a Christmas-themed novella but not a full novel. I’d echo that. I like the idea of reading a Christmas novel each year but find my reading time is so limited that I started one Christmas novel in 2010, started it again in 2011 and finally read it all the way through during Christmas 2012!

It all sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Fewer words = double the number of books I could write = more sales (if I get published or, if not, when I self-publish).

Except I’m stuck for an idea. I have several ideas for novels swimming around in my mind but, every time I think of one as a novella (i.e. shorter, more focused), the cast of characters have a fight with me and scream, “What about our sub-plot?” I’ll be honest and say that I’m struggling to think of an idea that isn’t too big. Let’s face it, my first idea for a novel became a trilogy and has since developed into a series so I’m not exactly from the school of thinking small and focused am I?

My wonderful writing friend and fellow Write Romantic, Jo, is currently working on a Christmas novella and she tells me she’s finding it great fun to write. I’m not sure whether the fun comes from the theme (surely anything Christmas-themed must be fun?) or the different approach needed so I must explore more. I feel I want to write one because I am someone who over-writes. My first draft of book 1 came in a little shy of 130,000 words so I had to do a lot of hard work to narrow it down to something closer to 100,000. A bit of focus on a novella could be really great learning.

I’m currently trying to write a short story which is presenting me with an even greater challenge for exactly the same reason. I’ve come up with the premise and my typical approach is to allow it to brew in my mind for a while before putting pen to paper. Whilst I can see how it could be a short story, the novelist in me has already made it bigger. I imagine the event in the short story being a chapter or two in a novel and can see great scope for developing the characters and sub-plots and I keep having to tell myself to stop getting carried away. Perhaps that’s where I’m going wrong. Perhaps I should stop fighting the bigger picture and write the short story but then write the novel featuring it. Maybe the short story could be a teaser? I’m sure I’ve ready many times that writers have done this; write a short story then create a whole novel from it. The thing is, I don’t think that would work with a novella as that’s like writing half a novel then padding it out with another 50,000 words by introducing another character or two and a couple of sub-plots. That really, really wouldn’t work.

Where does that leave me? I’m feeling quite comfortable with the idea of my short story being a springboard for a novel, now but I’m wondering if a novella perhaps isn’t for me. Or am I just thinking that because I’ve never actually read one. How can I make a decision about writing something when I’ve never read it? Perhaps it’s time to bob on over to Amazon for a few quick Kindle downloads. In the meantime, do let me know if you’ve ever written a novella and why. If you’re a reader of them, what do you like about them and can you recommend any you’ve really loved? Would be great to hear from you.

I now have a child-free and husband-free afternoon. The hoovering is done, the washing is on and it’s time to write. Perfect way to spend a bank holiday Saturday in my opinion, especially as yesterday was spent traipsing around a farm, zoo and playgrounds with my little one so it’s guilt-free writing time as her Nana will be entertaining her instead. Think I’ll just poddle downstairs and get my Easter egg first. Yes, I know you’re not meant to open them until Sunday but I dropped it on the floor and it broke so I have to eat it. Honest …!!!

4 thoughts on “To Novella or not to Novella? That is the question

  1. Step away from the Easter egg! I am really enjoying writing the novella, although never sure if it is going to be any good at this stage of the game. My secret is this… my novella is going to be one of a series (well, that’s the plan) and I am introducing characters and teasers for future novellas, so these hints at a sub plot (which I would usually write) have the scope to be introduced to become something bigger in a future novella in the series. For example, I have my heroine is this book raising funds for a young widowed mother, who will get a novella of her own next time out. I often love my sub-characters and plots as much as the main ones and so think I too would struggle with a novella if I tried to take these out all together. I see this way as the best of the both worlds, but ask me again when I am at 30,000 words and if I have managed to leave it there! You will, of course, be one of the first to see it too, so whether you like it or not will also be big factor for me to bear in mind 🙂 You can go back to the egg now, but I can’t wait to hear what you decide 😉 xx


    • The Easter egg is but a distant memory now! I think you may have come up with a great idea, Jo, with having different characters having their own novella. That might overcome my bigger thinking. Can’t wait to read yours xx


  2. Remember, a novella is from 2o/30,000 words to 50,000 words long, Julie. My latest novella, A Western Heart, soon to be released by Choc Lit Lite, is 30,000 words long. That was the comfortable length for that story. When I wrote The Art of Deception, also Choc Lit Lite, it came in at 50,000 words. That was the natural length for that story as there was a second story stand running through it, though not noticeably so.

    Your story that demands to be written will determine its own length. I would write the story that comes to you and not worry about the word count. When you’ve finished it, you can look at the number of words you have written, and take it from there.

    Good luck with it!


    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Liz, and for the additional advice. You’re so right about the story dictating the length needed to tell it. I have probably dismissed ideas in the past for not being of novel length yet these would make the perfect novella. I’m going to have to cast my mind back to try and remember what these ideas were! I think I may be swaying in that direction. Thanks so much for the original post as it’s certainly provided lots of food for thought.


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