Two Key Things I’ve Learned About Writing Novellas vs. Novels

In the beginning there was the novel … well, at least in the beginning of my fiction writing career, there was the novel, and nothing but the novel.

And then my editor asked, “What do you think about writing a novella?”

And I said, “Why not?”

My first novella was You Made Me Love You. And I liked the process, even as I learned that writing a novel and writing a novella are two very different things.

And then I read a Facebook post where some people were discussing novel versus novella – you know, the whole choose one or the other. And I wondered why. Why does it have to be novel or novella? Why not enjoy both? Choose a novel when you’re up for a longer read, a more detailed story.  And choose a novella when you’re looking for something shorter, something simpler, but just as enjoyable as a full-length novel.

Here’s the first thing I’ve learned about novellas versus novels as I’ve begun writing both:

#1. Writing a novella doesn’t mean you do less prep work.

Yes, a novella has a smaller word count. Most trade novels run somewhere around 85 thousand to 95 thousand words. Novellas max out at about 25 thousand words.

And yes, a novella usually does not have a subplot. You just don’t have the word count to spare from the main plot. Rachel Hauck reminds me of this constantly when I’m writing a novella: It’s all about the romance. Period.

But even with fewer words and with “only” a plot, this does not mean you’re giving your readers an inferior story.

When I wrote You Made Me Love You, I did the same prep work as I do when I write a full-length novel. I hauled out a new copy of The Book Buddy and figured out my Story Question (Do opposites attract or combust? Yes.) And I worked on my main characters’ Dark Moments, Wounds, Lies, and Fears – making sure that I developed Black Moments for each one that mirrored the Dark Moments of their pasts. Did I plot out their Ds and their Ys in the Road? Yep, I did those too!

I’m working on my third novella now. Here’s the second thing I’ve learned about novellas versus novels:

#2. A novella’s smaller word count doesn’t mean that you skimp on story because a novella is not less than a novel.

A novella’s plot needs depth, just like a novel’s plot does. A novella needs compelling characters. Written well, and a novella will keep your readers turning pages … make your readers laugh out loud, or wipe away a tear, or sigh at the happy ending. A novella can be as memorable as a full-length novel. And romance? I managed to include a heady dose of romance in You Made Me Love You! You can do the same with suspense — just don’t think writing a novella means you can give your readers less.

Remember: It’s all about the story you write – not the word count.

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