This week, I began work on a novella I agreed to compose for an anthology, which should hopefully come out sometime next year. Novellas are one of those story forms I don’t do often. I started professionally with short stories, only one of which found publication (Entomophobia: An Insect Incident), but usually my ideas expand into novel complexity and length.
For this story though, I had to focus and keep my muse from running off the novella sized tracks. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned that help with keeping a story to novella length.
1. Avoid Subplots: I love subplots. They make a story even more unique and interesting. However, in a novella, there simply isn’t space for them. If you must explore some other aspect of a character’s life or a whole other character, do it in another story. Or make the novella a novel instead.
2. Use No More Than Two Points of View: Some of my favorite books use lots of different point of view characters. However, a novella only needs one, two tops. For the one I’m currently working on, I’m using two, one for the hero and the other for the heroine, and that’s mainly because that’s how romance tends to work best.
3. Get to Your Point Quickly: A novella is not the time to extensively explore strange new worlds or allow a character to reflect greatly upon his past, present, or future. Similarly, while lovely description is fine, to the point is probably best. Word limits are much smaller, and even with cutting out subplots and extra POVs (points-of-view), those words pile up fast.
4. Keep Your Settings to a Minimum: Now, I can already imagine a few exceptions to this, but think of a sitcom. In the thirty minutes allotted, commercials included, a sitcom has only so much time. Reusing settings helps cut down on the amount of space you need for description and setup. Additionally, it helps the impression of a tighter knit story.
5. Keep the Cast Small: A short story usually manages with less than a handful of characters. A novel can afford to have a dozen or sometimes more. A novella can afford a few more than a short story, but you’ll save yourself much frustration if you still keep the cast small.
6. Everything a Novel Needs: For all I’ve emphasized cutting down on things to fit the shorter length of a novella, the story still needs everything a novel requires. It needs a solid structure and plot, engaging characters, emotional appeal, gripping storytelling, characters that grow and change, and a climax that satisfies. For the sake of keeping to the smaller word limit, don’t scrimp on good storytelling.