Guest Post by Grace Hitchcock –
When I first began writing novellas, I found that I was going to have to do some serious pruning to get the word count down. Writing a novella is quite different from writing a lengthy novel. After only a couple of writing sessions, I began running into problems with having too many ideas for one short story. So I took a couple of days off from writing and instead read two novella collections, studying how the writers not only formatted their chapters, but how they created a complete story with only 20,000-25,000 words. Comparing the styles of each author, I found a few things the writers did in common that made for a wonderful page-turning novella.
1. Focus on the main plot. While you can have a little bit of subplot, your storyline has to be good enough to stand on its own feet since you don’t have the luxury of a web of subplots to support your main story. Strip the story down to the main plot, focusing on your three-act structure. Like a novel, it has to be a full, complete story, so make sure you have the word count set aside for your first act with a peak point, a second act with a mid-point twist and second peak, driving your readers to the final pages of your novella with the ultimate summit, wrap-up, and satisfactory ending. If by the end of your novella you have room for that mini subplot thread, add it!
2. Limit the number of characters. Developing your novella characters takes just as much effort as in a novel, but you have a limited word count, so pick your descriptions and personality choices carefully so they enhance your story and give life to your characters. Everything in a novella has a purpose, and if it doesn’t, cut it.
3. Setting is still important. While we do not have the luxury of going to the Faulkner-description level in a novella, the reader needs to be planted in the story. Keep it brief and enlightening. Remember that the setting is there to add to the story, so treat your setting as one of your few characters.
4. Action turns the pages. The goal is to get your readers to blaze through the novella in only a single sitting and you accomplish that by building the tension in your likable characters and using your tight, well-paced plot to push the characters’ internal and external struggles in a way that keeps readers devouring each chapter.
5. And finally, make the ending worth the read. Nothing is worse than spending a few hours reading to find the author has not followed the genre expectations. If you are writing romance, make sure it has a happily-ever-after ending that is so dreamy that your readers want more! As the saying goes, your first chapter sells the current book, but your last chapter sells your next book!
Grace Hitchcock is the author of multiple historical novels and novellas. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing and a BA in English with a minor in History. She lives in the New Orleans area with her husband, son, and daughter. To learn more, visit her at GraceHitchcock.com. Grace’s latest novel, His Delightful Lady Delia (November 2022), is available now wherever books and ebooks are sold.