For centuries, novellas have sparked the imaginations of writers and readers around the world. Yet, it’s always short stories that are showcased in literary magazines, and novels that enjoy the biggest buzz and top profits. Novellas usually measure in at 20,000 to 50,000 words, making them too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel—but there’s beauty in that. The novella embodies the best of both genres, making it a versatile, vibrant form of fiction to explore.
Just check the literary archives, where you’ll find a long list of esteemed novella authors, including Leo Tolstoy, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, James Baldwin, Shirley Jackson, and Ernest Hemingway.
Follow these tips for writing a novella of your own, and see where the story takes you!
1. Read lots of novellas
Just as you wouldn’t want to build a house without studying how houses are built, you don’t want to start writing a novella if you’ve never carefully read one. Paying attention to the narrative and stylistic choices, structure, and pacing in other novellas will help you craft your own. You might even discover a novella category you never knew existed. From historical and autobiographical stories to science fiction, gothic, and mystery tales, there is a novella type for everyone. Expand your reading list with ideas from our blog post featuring classic novellas.
2. Outline key scenes
If you’ve written a short story before, you might be surprised to find the process of writing a novella is quite different. The longer structure of a novella demands a more detailed approach. Before you begin writing, think about the main conflicts your characters will encounter. Choose a setting for each, note who is involved, and the outcome of each event. Then map out your key scenes from beginning to end. Once you know the full arc of your story, you can write each scene in a way that advances the plot.
3. Choose a point of view
There are three basic points of view used in fiction writing. Decide which kind of narration makes the most sense for your novella, and then stick to it. A lot of stories are told in first person perspective (using “I” or “my”) because it creates a powerful and personal connection with the character telling the story. Second person point of view (using “you”) is not very common in fiction, but it can be effective for certain tales. Third person perspective (using “he/she” or “they”) gives an all-powerful narrator outside the story complete access to the characters’ lives and minds, so it’s a very popular choice.
4. Develop a character arc
Most compelling stories involve a character arc, in which the protagonist (the main character) undergoes an emotional journey or transformation. You will want to decide where your characters will end up (what they will learn, how they will change) before you begin your novella. Is this a story of triumph, revenge, courage, discovery, reward, or loss? Use what you know about the character’s personality to create a believable path for them. The stronger the character development (emotions, motivations, decisions, and reactions), the more readers will connect with the story.
5. Pick up the pace
A common mistake that writers make when writing their first novella is taking too long to reach the first major conflict. Unlike a novel, the novella does not give readers time to slowly gather clues about characters and plot. Try starting your story in medias res (in the middle of the action) to give early pages more energy and hook your reader. Read through your first draft and see if any background descriptions or character behaviors feel repetitive. If so, delete them. Then look for places to build suspense or use foreshadowing (hint at upcoming events through imagery, symbolism, or observations).
6. Use figurative language
A savvy writer knows when to keep the story moving with straightforward plot description, and when to add flourishes. If you realize you’ve been writing your novella on autopilot and simply telling (rather than showing) the action, see if there is room for figurative language (symbolism, metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole). It may take a few drafts to ensure that these images and literary techniques are strengthening your story, rather than distracting from it. So don’t be afraid to experiment. Using creative language can take your novella from bland to beautiful.
7. Avoid complicated subplots
Once you begin writing your novella, you may be tempted to introduce new subplots or side characters. Resist the urge, and remind yourself that every character or event needs to support the storytelling. Is it part of the exposition (description), rising action (series of events that create tension), turning point or climax (moment of highest conflict), or resolution? Recurring flashbacks and tedious dialogue can complicate the story or slow things down. Your goal is to build a relationship with readers and create an immersive experience in a fairly condensed format, so there is no time for tangents.
8. Revise your drafts
Even the most experienced writers need editors, and so will you. After finishing a draft of your novella, allow time for readers you trust to review it and provide feedback. You can even give them a list of story elements to help focus their comments: strong opening/closing, character development, setting, plot conflicts, dialogue, tone, diction (word choice), and consistent verb tenses. Receiving constructive criticism on creative projects is not easy for anyone, but it is an essential part of producing your best work and becoming a better writer.
9. Make a Trade Book
Novellas are perfect for self-publishing. Download our free desktop software, BookWright, and get everything you need to design and print your novella. Select Trade Books as your book format, then choose a book size, paper, and cover type to fit your project. You can also use pro tools like Adobe InDesign or Blurb’s PDF Uploader to set up your book. The next step is up to you! Will you sell your book online, share it with friends and family, or distribute it worldwide?
Any Trade Book made with Blurb can be sold online through the Blurb Bookstore or Amazon, as well as through independent bookstores. Want to learn more about Trade Books? Check out your book distribution options with Ingram.