How Not to Write a Novella

By on Mar 26, 2017 in Fiction, Writing & Editing

Novella is the form between a short story and a novel. As such, it has elements of both of them. A novella tells a story that can easily be expanded into a full novel. On the other hand, the events in a novel happen in a limited amount of time, within a single setting, although, this is not strictly necessary, as long as the writer can easily explain how the characters got from one location to another. Most of all, a novella doesn’t and cannot focus on a big cast of characters.

So, where can you go wrong? It appears easy to write a novella because you don’t have the limitations of a short story, nor do you have to explore so many subplots as ideas as you would with a novel. But, therein lays the problem. Is your idea big enough to warrant writing a novella, or should you keep it as a short story? Or, have you got a cast of at least ten characters that will be important to the story? If you do, chances are, you need to write a novel, instead of a novella. For that reason, today we’re taking a look at where you can go wrong when writing a novella, and how to fix it.

1. Novella without a purpose

A novella can be the perfect prequel for a series, or simply a companion to one of your novels. Writing a novella can also be the perfect way to exercise writing a work that is longer than a short story but not as demanding as a novel. However, you need to think of your readers as well – or, of the readers that you want to get. If the novella doesn’t have a purpose, then the readers will not be interested in reading it. If your novella will be a part of a series, you need to find something that your novella will focus on: the change in the protagonist, the resolution of a significant conflict, or bringing the protagonist to a point of no return. In other words, what happens in the novella has to be significant for the characters, which in turn will make it significant for the readers.

2. Structuring it like a novel

Elaborating on the world, the characters, and the overall story in a novella is the best way to ensure you cannot finish it until you’ve written a novel. A novella has three arcs, but they need to be short, precise, and with purpose. In other words, you cannot play with pacing as you would in a novel – action, reaction, or reflection – in a novella, the pace is much faster, and there is very little time to reflect on what’s happening, unless your novella is character-driven rather than plot driven, in which every event has an effect on the protagonist. But, even in that case, you still need strong events that will trigger the change in the protagonist and make the events of the novella cause him or her to change.

3. Having a large cast of characters

Yes, the protagonist may be a popular person with a large family and a lot of friends, and while it’s okay to mention that, the cast of characters in your novella will be limited to the characters that are important to the plot. Not only will you be unable to develop these characters properly, you will also be unable to keep the readers’ attention. When you have too many names to remember, too many physical descriptions with very little time – where you will even find the time to present all characters in a decent way that doesn’t make them appear like two-dimensional cardboards?

In other words, keep your cast small. They will have a bigger impact on the readers that way.

4. Elaborate world building

As mentioned above, a novella usually occurs in a single setting, maybe two or three if you can explain how the characters travelled from location A to location B. On the other hand, the journey can be the crux of it, if you’re writing a road trip story. Otherwise, don’t have your characters visit different places in a city throughout the novella. Keep the world simple instead of elaborate, and give just enough information to make the readers connect with the world you’ve created. If your novella is a part of a series, avoid retelling what happened in previous novels, novellas or short stories. You’ll only be taking up space. Keep your novella readable as a standalone.

5. Complicated conflict

The conflict should be easy to resolve. A teenager finally convincing her parents that she is ready to be more independent. A young woman rediscovering herself after a break up. A detective solving a relatively easy case. But a novella is not the right form for an epic fantasy quest. A novella is not the right form for a complicated relationship between two people. A novella is the place for romance where the conflict between the hero and the heroine is easy to resolve. In fact, a novella is not the place for backstory that will give a complicated conflict a bigger impact. A novella is often called a film, because it takes that amount of time for the readers to read it. As such, there is only so much time and space for you to explore the world and the characters and the conflict.

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As a 22-year-old art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.

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