In our Advanced Fiction class we’re writing novellas. It’s fun to write a novella, because you can finish your story quickly and get it published
You may be wondering… what’s a novella?
Novellas are short fiction. Novellas are too long to be short stories, and too short to be novels. So they’re an ideal length for today’s readers who want stories they can read quickly.
I think of novellas as overgrown short stories, and write them at anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 words.
Write a novella, and sell it — fast
Did you know that when you write a novella, you can make as much income as you can writing a novel?
I asked a couple of self-publishing authors who specialize in short fiction how they priced their novellas — did they price them lower than novels? Both said that they invariably priced their novellas at either $2.99 or $3.99. They added some of their novellas to KDP Select, some they didn’t.
What you do with your novellas will vary according to what you want them to achieve for you.
For example, if you’re writing a series, you could write a novella as a lead-in to the series, and price it at 99 cents. The hope is that you’ll get readers hooked on the series.
Now let’s look at some tips to help you to write novellas confidently.
1. Start with the story question: what’s at stake?
The story question is also known as the narrative drive; it’s what powers the novella.
I talked about narrative drive here:
What will the surgeon do? Will she choose her family, or the prime minister? Who will live, and who will die? That’s the story question. It powers the narrative — it’s the narrative drive.
The story question is the point of the story; in a mystery, will the sleuth unmask the killer, in a thriller, will the hero overcome the terrorists and save thousands of lives?
Bryn Donovan has some plotting ideas from classic novels here; it’s a great list, and will get you thinking in terms of the story question.
2. Create characters, but keep your cast small
When you’re writing a novella, keep the cast of characters small. You haven’t the space for a tribe.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a novella as a prequel to a series of novels, you may add in a couple of characters you don’t strictly need, because they’ll make an appearance in your series.
3. What’s the climax?
What does your point of view (POV) character fear most? Once you know that, you know that this greatest fear will play out in the climax of the novella. You’ll torture your character by making him face what he most fears.
A student asked whether you need a climax in a novella. Some authors feel that you don’t. Other authors end on a cliffhanger, so that the reader will buy another book which carries on the story.
I like to include a climax, and I never end on a cliffhanger. I like my novellas to be a complete emotional experience for readers. That said, it depends on your own needs, as well as the genre.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing a mystery series. The series has an overall mystery, which won’t be resolved until the final book, although each book contains a complete mystery, which is resolved in the climax. Each book in the series adds more clues to the “big” mystery of the series.
Let’ say that you want to write a novella to promote your series. Of course you won’t resolve the overall series’ mystery, but you will resolve a complete mystery for readers.
Please don’t get too hung up over what to do, climax or no-climax. Your story will usually tell you what’s needed once you’ve written a few thousand words.
4. Write your first draft quickly, in scenes and dialogue
I like to write the dialogue in scenes first. The dialogue is usually the action of the scene. Writing that first gets it out of the way. Then you can focus on underpainting your scene.
5. Add your “underpainting”: character motivations, thoughts etc.
When you’ve written a scene, mostly in dialogue, go back and add stuff. I call this process adding bits of business to the scene; bestselling Outlander author Diana Gabaldon calls the technique “underpainting”. Great word:
… the technique involves a good deal of body language and inconsequential small actions. The reader is conscious of the main thrust of a paragraph, page or scene; the spoken dialogue, the main actions. Subconsciously, underpainting brings the scene alive in the mind’s eye.
In underpainting, you’re putting in whatever the scene needs. You add the viewpoint character’s thoughts, actions of other characters in the scene, the time of day and weather if it’s relevant… Anything and everything which fleshes out the scene.
Of course, in a novella you add less of this than you’d add in a full-length novel.
So, there you have it: some tips to help you to write a novella. Let me know know if they work for you. 🙂
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