Novellas are becoming very popular. This is particularly true since the advent of digital-age publishing. More and more e-book readers are opting for novellas that cost anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99. They can be read quickly in one or two sittings.
Writing a novella has been floating through my head for the last few months because I have been looking for a way to keep my Endurance mystery readers with me. My traditional publisher recently decided that my second mystery would not be out in June as expected. Two years between books in a series does not make much sense. This loss of time is particularly crucial since my coming second and third books are tied together closely with a mystery. Self-publishing a novella, or multiple novellas, would fill in some blanks in the period of time between books. They would also allow me to explore other characters in the Endurance series.
So, what do I need to think about when switching from novels to novellas?
A novella fits somewhere between a short story and a novel. Whereas my three written mysteries [two yet to be published] are 71,000 words, 82,000 words, and 74,000 words, a novella must be much shorter. (For those of you who think in page numbers, the page lengths of these three novels are 239, 272, and 258.) The length of a novella is approximately 20,000 to 40,000 words, or 80-160 pages. This change in length calls for some real changes in the way an author approaches a novella. Here are four areas I need to consider:
Two: Plot and Structure
Like a novel, a novella begins with a strong hook to bring the reader into the story quickly. However, a novella must have fewer, if any, subplots. Instead, the writer needs to have one plot that allows for many complications. The time period of the plot must also be shorter. Now the author does not have the luxury of stringing out the plot through months or maybe years. A novella usually covers anywhere from days to a few weeks. Usually, a novella has white space on the page between scenes rather than divisions into chapters. After all, the novella must maintain the plot in a very streamlined fashion where one event quickly leads to another. A novella often has an unexpected twist at the end of the plot.
Three: Characters and Point of View (POV)
Unlike a novel with a few main characters and a supporting cast, a novella will generally have one main character, and any supporting characters will have to have a darn good reason to be in the plot. That main character will be well-rounded, but other characters will have much less description than you might see in a full-length novel. Rarely will a novella have more than one POV. [This will be hard for me since I’m used to going between my detective and my main character.] It limits the writer to what that one character thinks or experiences.
The conflict in a novella must be easily recognizable early and then continue as the main focus of the novella. The author does not have the luxury of side problems or room for description of settings. The one conflict is the focus, and since the pace of a novella must be fast, the writer must have many complications for this one conflict. The length of the novella will depend on the number of complications.
Unlike the luxurious, rambling pace of a novel, a novella must be streamlined. This means the writer must cut out all unnecessary words and make sure the verbs are strong. Because the novella has a single focus and limited space, serious cutting of the various drafts is a necessity. This will be difficult for me because, despite writing Cliffs Notes, which were VERY condensed, I find it hard to cut back. I am looking forward to this challenge. This also means that I will have to be much more selective in the words I use.
Having studied all of these differences between novellas and novels, I am going to have my work cut out of me, especially with revision. However, I’m currently thinking about a novella targeting my detective, TJ Sweeney, and the mystery will go back to an earlier era in Endurance’s history. Stay tuned for more information along the way.