Size Matters: Novellas vs Full Length Novels
Todays brew: hot water with lemon and honey
Is it just me or does it seem like more books than ever are coming out lately? A lot of you have accused me of forgoing sleep to write, or of being a machine, but some authors are even making me say how do they do that? There are people putting out new stories every couple of weeks. And readers love it.
So how the heck do they do it?
Novellas. Novelettes. Short stories. Call them what you want, but under 50K is the new black. Tor is starting a new imprint for novellas. Kindle Unlimited is making short stories profitable for many authors. Some authors are only writing short stories now. A huge change from when I first began my publishing journey and there was no market for novellas. And again, readers love them. They’re priced competitively and they don’t require a huge commitment. A couple weeks ago, I had a lot of down time on a job. So between talent, I read. (I do all my best reading on the clock.) I wound up checking out three novellas that day. It was cool to just have this little nibble of a story that was tailor made to the time I had. A full length book can take me weeks to finish, if I ever do. My attention span isn’t what it used to be. Chances are, yours isn’t either.
You may have noticed I’ve written a few of novellas as well. My Colorado Shifters stories are all under 30K. I decided that I wanted to supplement The Spotlight Series with shorter stories dedicated to the sidekicks. The Trouble With Bree was born. I found that paranormal readers are a little more open to the short format, but with recent serial releases from bestselling authors such as Elizabeth Lee and Marquita Valentine, I think that contemporary readers are soon going to find these stories fit into their busy lives nicely.
Writing a novella takes similar planning to writing a novel. The main difference is that the characters will be dealing with one main conflict, and not as many subplots. With only 30K (or less!) words, every single one of them has to be a part of a well-oiled machine. Just because your story is short doesn’t mean you can skimp on character development or plot. I also find that my novellas have fewer characters, and the story takes place over a shorter span of time.
The biggest challenge came to me after I wrote three novellas in a row and it was time for a new full length story, The Fire Dancer, which will be the next Night Songs book. The words were coming, but something wasn’t right. I had to go back and spend some more time with my story and my characters. It was okay to follow with the characters while they went for coffee or watched a movie, as long as something else was happening in the scene. In a novella, that kind of scene would have been shortened to just a mention of the activity. I had that chance to get to know my characters, and develop their personalities in other ways. It didn’t have to be go go go all the time. In my novellas, there are usually only two main characters and they usually want the same thing. In my novels, there’s a bigger cast, and they all have their own interests in mind. Subplot city, baby.
Once I let myself slow down and explore Holly’s story deeper, the story flowed at the correct pace. When I say slow down, don’t think for a minute that I wrote less. I just spent more time with each scene, or let it have more complex parts. The beauty of that was the characters took over. There are a few twists in that book that I didn’t see coming until they happened, and those are my favorite, because I think they make the book.
After The Fire Dancer, I returned to novellas. It was time for another Colorado Shifters story. I’d had the concept, an older woman working with a younger personal trainer, in mind for a long time. I’d planned to write it as a full length contemporary, but with a title like Cougar and the Lion in mind, it was perfect to adapt into this series. This time, I incorporated some subplots. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to tell the story in under 30K words, but I told myself it didn’t matter how long it was, just write the story as the main character, Arielle, tells it to me. My girls haven’t wronged me yet. The story wasn’t exactly the one I’d expected to write, but it’s Ari’s story, and I hope I did her proud. The subplots actually drove the story. Had I not given some of the secondary characters time to appear in the story, it would have never worked as well as it did.
I want to keep writing both formats. It’s a good challenge for me, and hopefully changing things up makes me a stronger writer. I have three series I’m working on now, and the next story I have on tap is shorter, and then I’ll return again to a full length novel. The shorter books are a great way to keep readers engaged between longer books, and as they’re a fun way to tell stories in a different style.
My novellas tend to land at 27K words and my full length books at about 68K. What’s your sweet spot? Have you tried your hand at shorter fiction, or will you be sticking to strictly novels?