Writing Short: A lesson on novella writing

Hello there, Sugar here. I recently finished writing my first holiday novella. (Look out for Have Yourself a Curvy Little Christmas sometime in the late fall.) After the initial excitement of being asked to write for my publisher again, I panicked a little. I write single titles. Long single titles. Dangerous Curves Ahead weighs in at over one hundred thousand words. I’ve never written anything under ninety thousand words.

But they were asking me to tell a story in twenty-five thousand words. TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND WORDS. Gulp. How the hell was I going to pull that off? But you know what? I did. Okay so maybe I went over by a few thousand, but I manage to tell a story using a quarter of the words I normally do.

How did I do it? I kept these five things in mind when I was writing.

1. KISS: Keep it Simple Stupid. Your idea should be simple and solid.

SIMPLE: A man reunites with the woman who left him at the alter. Together they rediscover their love for each other and learn to put the past behind them.

NOT SIMPLE : A man reunites with the woman who left him at the alter. He learns she was abducted by aliens who plan to take over the world by impregnating all brunettes under the age of forty. Only to find that her pregnancy didn’t take because she half mutant.   Together they travel through time and space in an effort to stop the world from being taken over and to learn more about her secret origins.

2. Cut out all the descriptive stuff.

Yes, please do give us a clue to the setting, but don’t describe the lushness of the trees and the greenness of the grass and how the hot summer wind blows across the field and gently rustles the curtains.

In other words tell the damn story.

3. The less subplot the better.

You really don’t need to introduce us to a cast of thousands. We don’t need to know all the townspeople and their historys, foibles and quirks. We don’t need to know that Mrs. Peasly, your hero’s favorite teacher, is going to lose her house and needs a million dollars to save it. Focus on the main conflict at hand.

4. Limit backstory.

Backstory can be an important tool to let the reader know your hero’s motivation, but don’t overdo it. Sprinkle, don’t dump.  

5. Cut. Cut. Cut.

Don’t be afraid to chop out passages or entire scenes. Think about every word you write. Ask yourself, “Is this necessary to tell my story?” And if the answer is no get rid of it.

That’s all I’ve got, so I’m turning it over to you, my writer friends. What advice would you give on how to write short? Any and all comments are welcome! 

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8 thoughts on “Writing Short: A lesson on novella writing”

  1. Great advice, Sugar. I’m thinking about writing a Christmas novella too and I will use your words of wisdom as I’m writing. For me it’s like rather than writing a three act play, it’s now one act. Wish me luck.

  2. Someone (fabulous) recently told me to start writing novellas to get a following and my initial thought was “how the hell do you do that?”. Glad to know I’m not alone and now I know. Since I’m the queen of limited description (Clothes? We don’t need no stinking clothes. This is romance, they’re just going to come off any way..) it should be easy-peasy, right? LOL. Thanks for sharing, Sugar and looking forward to both DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD and your first novella!

    1. My editor is always telling me to describe the town more and i keep thinking who the hell cares about what the town looks like?! But novellas are fun. You should try it.

      1. I agree. At least I know my weakness (besides chocolate). Sounds like novellas will be right up my alley!

  3. All great advice, Sugar–even when writing long fiction. I wrote a 15,000 word short story as a prequel to the first book in my Lily Carmichael trilogy. I found that when I stayed focused on the main character and his GMC, it was easier to root out all the extraneous detail and subplotting. Every scene needed to be pared down to it’s main point and had to do double duty of moving the story forward and showing character development in a concise manner. With short fiction, you have to get to the conflict quickly and you don’t have a lot of time for character development so it forces you to really show, rather than tell their arc from beginning to end. It was great exercise for me as well. Glad you got through it without too much stressing!

  4. Great article – clear and concise. I Indie published my first novel in April 2013 and will publish my second novel in September 2013. I was thinking of writing a few short stories just to break up my monotonous schedule (I still work full-time and write at night). You have provided me with inspiration! And, to stretch myself even further, I think I’ll try writing a novella in a genre that I don’t normally write (I write crime fiction).

    I do have a question, though: with a novella, do you still send it off to an editor for content or line edit and for proofreading the galleys just like a full-length novel?

    1. Yes, since my publisher asked me to write it I still went through the same process as if I handed in a full length novel. Since you’re indie publishing I would recommend your novella be as edited and polished as the rest of your work. Novellas are a great way for readers who are wary of shelling out big bucks on a unknown writer to get a taste of what they might be in for with a longer novel. It’s a great way to suck people in and get them to stay with you for life..

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