Hey there, Seekerville! I’m sooo happy to be hanging out with y’all today and chatting about a topic near and dear to my heart—novellas and how to write them brilliantly.
Novellas are like the new girl in high school who is crowned Homecoming Queen three years after moving to town. When I first entered the writing world, they were being published, people read them, but they didn’t have the popularity or the…shall, I say, sparkle, that they do today. Back then, I rarely read them. Today, I cannot help but read them. So many talented authors have jumped on the novella bandwagon, and you might be considering becoming one of them.
But to write a novella, a stand-out, sigh-worthy, stay-up-till-one a.m. flipping pages, kind of story takes an entirely different skill set than penning a masterfully written 100’000 word epic.
And that’s where tight writing comes in.
So without further delay, here are five points to help you trim your prose and make every word do double duty.
1- You’re Writing a Movie, Not a Miniseries—First of all, I looove a good miniseries. There’s nothing I’d rather do than spend six hours viewing Pride and Prejudice or four watching North and South. I adore the winding plotlines and drawn-out conversations. But that’s not what we’re after in novellas. I like to think of a novella as the 90-minute flick you’ll watch when you want drama/romance/comedy in a hurry. The opening credits barely have time to roll before the story gets going. Right away, we’re introduced to our main character. Instantly, the music, scenery, and dialogue tell us what kind of film this is. No Shakespearian monologues allowed!
2- Pack a Punch With Powerful Description—This is a must for evoking emotion in the reader. As a novelist, you have the luxury of describing…and describing again. But in a novella, it’s once, and that once had better be good. Here’s an example from my novella, A Bride for a Bargain (part of The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection).
Merciful heavens, this thing was a palace! Ada stared. And kept on staring. Did the rich actually think themselves too good for ordinary trains? Obviously. Grander than the interior of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the railcar’s front room was a vision of wood-paneled luxury. Thick velvet drapes blocked most of the light, save what a silk-shaded lamp provided. Plush carpets rustled against her feet, and decorative pillows cluttered a brocaded sofa. It even smelled good. Like scented candles and lemon oil.
She drew in a long, delighted breath.
Using words that instantly paint a picture in the reader’s mind (vision of wood-paneled luxury) and actions that add to the scene (plush carpets rustled against her feet) takes the reader and…bam, places them right in the midst of what the character is experiencing.
3- Minimalize Backstory—Plain and simple, we don’t need to know everything about the character. Of course, you, as the author should know the character’s backstory. But if it’s not important to the story or the hero’s development, leave it out. Since most novellas are genre fiction (romance, suspense, etc.) the focus needs to be on the elements of the story that tie into the genre—will the hero and heroine find love, will the criminal be caught?
4- The Heroine Doesn’t Need a Second Cousin Once Removed (Keeping Your Cast Small)—This ties into the point above. A huge cast is unnecessary and wastes words needed elsewhere. Obviously, you don’t want to go to the other extreme and use only three people total, but keep in mind, the more characters you introduce, the more you need to follow through with. For my romance novellas, I usually have a cast of about eight to ten characters—including those who only have walk-on roles.
5- Use the Same Studs You Built Your Mansion With to Construct Your Cabin— While I love novellas, I have read quite a few I thought were lackluster and just…blah. When I examined the “why” behind my dislike, I discovered it was primarily due to the plot. There was no defined beginning, middle, and end. I’m a big fan of the three act structure and of infusing each story with certain turning points--the Black Moment, Epiphany, etc. In the novellas I disliked, any semblance of these was woefully lacking. Sometimes, I was absolutely astonished that the hero and heroine were taking their relationship to the next level. They’d barely spent any time together, for goodness sake! All this to say, a novella is a different sort of fiction, but should be constructed using the same building blocks and outlining system as a full-length novel.
Hopefully, these points provide a “nuts and bolts” approach to writing a novella that will keep readers flipping pages and staying up until the wee hours. Then lining up in droves to buy your next story and many more after that.
Do you struggle to “write tight”? Have you written a novella, and if so, did you enjoy it?
GIVEAWAY—I’m giving away a copy of The California Gold Rush Romance Collection (which includes my novella “The Price of Love”) to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!
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Amanda Barratt is the ECPA bestselling author of four novellas published by Barbour Publishing. She fell in love with writing in grade school when she wrote her first story - a spinoff of Jane Eyre. Since then, Amanda has penned novels set in Regency and Victorian England, and the Gilded Age.
A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, she lives in the woods of Michigan with her fabulous family, who kindly put up with the invisible people she calls characters.
These days, Amanda can be found reading way too many books, watching an eclectic mix of BBC dramas and romantic chick flicks, and trying to figure out a way to get on the first possible flight to England.
You can connect with her at: amandabarratt.net and on Facebook at: Facebook.com/amandabarrattauthor