Monday, May 9, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

I had a fab reader write me and ask if I could talk about the differences in writing novels and novellas - yay for great questions!

If you want the basic answer, a novella is just a short novel. :)

BUT. I have been working on my first novella and let me tell you - I think it's a lot harder writing novellas than full-length books! I'm used to having around 80,000 words to develop my plot, figure out who my characters really are and let them play around. It's like being used to the ocean and then being told to stay in the shallow end of a pool.

The biggest difference in writing a novel versus a novella, in my opinion anyway, is learning how to pace the story. When you get down to it, the plot, the characters - those don't change radically from novel to novella. But the ebb and flow of the story changes drastically. In a novel, you usually have a plot that goes something like this:

Beginning - tiny conflict - resolution - minor conflict - resolution - MAJOR conflict - NO resolution - catastrophic conflict - final resolution

In a novella, you're limited to about 15,000 to 20,000 words on average. It would be very quick conflicts if you included each of those plot steps.

Instead, you might have something that looks like this:

Beginning - minor conflict - resolution - MAJOR conflict - final resolution.

Short, simple, but still with some conflict because like I had drummed into my brain at writer's conferences, conflict is what creates a story. (Side note: Conflict does NOT have to mean a car gets blown up, a person gets dismembered or a monster a la Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker has to appear. Conflict can be as simple as your main character's toaster breaking that morning. Granted, if you were Frank or Ted, you'd probably have the toaster explode killing all residents inside. ;) )

Have you ever written a novella? What did you think was the best/worst part about it?


  1. I'm almost afraid to answer.

    My publisher asked me to write a novella along with a best selling author for Love Inspired's line. I was honored, and thrilled.

    Until I sat down. And tried. And pulled my hair out. I once thought, 20k? Easy peasy.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I just wrote a 100,000 word book that was SO MUCH EASIER.

    So yes, novellas are tricky. Some people can do them flawlessly and in five days. Kudos, to them. For me? Not so much. I'm pleased with the final product and grateful for the opportunity I had but I don't intend to do any more novellas!

    (unless specifically approached again as an honor, AND with a non-tight deadline...)

    So please, writers out there, aspiring to b published...don't assume writing a novella is easier. More than likely, it won't be.

    Erynn, what are you writing a novella for?

    PS - my novella is part of a two-in-one Love Inspired compilation titled Mistletoe Prayers, released October 2010. My book inside is titled The Gingerbread Season. :)

  2. That's good to know it's not easier, I thought they would be & have been considering that. I have been a hard time writing lately and have been down about it.
    I have a hard time finding an idea I like. It seems like my mind is always saying "these are not good enough" & I dont really know what to do about that.

  3. I *only* write novellas, and I love it. Honestly, I find it much harder to write a full novel because I have difficulty moving things along at an appropriate rate.Plus, it's the perfect short little read you need sometimes. But it's true that when you're used to writing longer things, the short- is 20k short?- ones are a lot harder. It's definitely, for me, time to start branching out.

  4. Hmmm...yes, I know what you mean about having that nice pond to wade in. I'm hashing out a novel right now, and feeling constricted by a 50,000 word limit. At this rate it will be roughly as long as War and Peace.