Novel Approaches to Writing: The Heyday of the Novella

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When I was in high school and college, I really wanted to be a published author. I wanted to be writing novels. I love to sit and read and perusing a novel has never been a problem for me, even at a young age. That dream still exists today and I am writing more than ever to make that dream come true.

But the reality is, novels are really long. The traditional novel is 80,000+ words. And while I still don’t have a problem reading that much material in a limited amount of time, writing something of that length in a timely manner is hard. I sit at work all day in front of a computer so, the thought of coming home and writing is often unpleasant, no matter how much I truly enjoy the craft of writing.

Luckily, the novella is having a bit of a heyday. Thanks to diminishing attention spans and people having less time than ever before for leisurely activities, the novella once again has a place in our lives. Hooray!

You can tell that the novella is en vogue again by just googling it. Goodreads has a list of popular novellas and a lot of them seem to be YA fiction. That makes sense considering the audience base. Not too many younger readers will sit and read 800 pages, though Harry Potter and other such stories can be an exception to that occurrence. This list provides you a group of classically popular reads in the novella category. This list captures writers from Herman Melville to Truman Capote and expands across centuries of writers. If Truman Capote was doing it, it can’t be wrong!

If you look into smaller publishers, many of them are looking for works between 50,000 and 80,000 words. A novella is a work that is 50,000+ and you can do a lot of storytelling in that space. I personally was never a fan of writing short stories because you have to pack in so much in such a small expanse of space. I despise limitations. But I adore minimum requirements!

The novella gives me the freedom of space like a novel because of its lack of length limitations. It is also something that is easier to aspire to as a storyteller as opposed to the 80K holy grail. I’ve done the full-length novel and it took me 7 months to get there. But at this point in time, while I am working and trying to create a small offshoot career as an author (plus everything else in life), making readers wait until I produce enough content for a novel is not the best decision. Plus, Stephen King says you should be finished with a work in 3 moths or less. Granted Mr. King writes for a living and doesn’t have to maintain a separate career. Career and all, I’ve found that I can produce a novella in about 4 months and I think I can reduce the time by sticking to a set word count every day. Additional time will be needed of course for editing and deepening.

Novellas are also handy for a number of other reasons. As a printed piece, they require fewer materials to produce (if I am so lucky that I get to produce printed copies). This cuts printing costs but is also appealing to readers who don’t want to lug around something the size of the Bible in their luggage if they don’t have a tablet or e-reader. You get a whole story without feeling cheated or that you need to do bicep reps to hold the book up without pain. All I need is enough space to tell the story I see in my head and with the novella, I can end where I see fit instead of tacking on unnecessary scenes just to get to 80K.

The story I am currently working on sits at a healthy 50,140 or so words and it is only in first draft form. I have a couple of sub plots to flesh out so I imagine that the work will end up at about 60-65K when complete. It will still be a novella, just a slightly chunkier one.

And that’s ok. In a world where you have ridiculously long stories that go on for 4 or more books, especially if they are of the George R.R. Martin variety, I think it’s ok to have a story that is only 60K words. Personally, I read the first Game of Thrones book and thought to myself, OK I get it. I don’t really need to read any more. And I haven’t gone back to the series since. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the book. I just felt like I had gotten the message he was sending and was ready for something else. I did the same thing with Outlander.

Frankly, I think the novella is refreshing. Hollywood tries to milk the audience for all it can by churning out multiple movies for a single book. I find that particularly frustrating. And the publishing world isn’t much better. Series. Series. Series. And yeah, I get it. Hook ’em and keep ’em coming back for more. Everyone wants to make money. But seriously? The trilogy is getting a bit cliché if you ask me…

From a writer’s perspective, I grow accustomed to my characters and their stories and am ready to go on to something new. If I had to stick with them for two more books, I think I’d start to feel bogged down and that I am lacking the freedom to explore that keeps me coming back as a writer. I doubt that I will ever create something that is a series. I have too many stories and characters from various places in mind whose stories are waiting to be told. I don’t have time to sit and give one or more characters more than one book. Sorry guys.

Do you have an opinion about the novella? Please share!

6 thoughts on “Novel Approaches to Writing: The Heyday of the Novella

  1. I, too, love writing and am an aspiring author. I have never even thought about the idea of a novella! As an aspiring author and writer I would love it if you could check out my blog! I just recently posted about the “awesome-ness” of bookshelves and their powerful nature. Thank you so much! 🙂

  2. I love, love, love writing novellas for the very reasons you list. Long-form fiction can be daunting, so sometimes, it’s just nice to FINISH IT. Haha. Awesome post!

  3. I believe in novellas because they are a gateway into becoming familiar with an author, and they are handy for shorter, yet impact full reads. There are so many fine classic novellas out there, The Old Man and the Sea ( the only Hemingway I’m interested in) is a greet example. I do wish I could get over the feeling that I’m cheating though. It’s kind of eating lite cheesecake-skimping on calories, and not quite the same taste.

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