The Write Way: Writing The Novella

While I’m waiting for my real life to resume and house-sitting for friends, I’ve been working on a novella.  A hundred pages is the perfect project for this interlude in my life.  Short, like my stay here, and easier to interrupt if I don’t finish the book before I move again.

The novella, tentatively titled Let It Snow, is the first of three in a Christmas anthology.  The stories are connected, and the coordination has been more work than the writing.  But my co-authors are lovely women, and we’ve managed to iron out details and have fun besides.

Let’s face it, normally I don’t write short.  Just don’t. I linger over characters’ lives, construct multiple subplots, and embellish settings.  I want my readers to feel they’re walking through the pages. I’ll confess that sometimes I take the long way home when I could detour successfully and get there days earlier.

So it’s odd that I also like to write novellas. Love to, in fact. And odder still, I’ve never gone over my word count. Since almost everything about writing one is a little different, today I’ll share a few things I’ve learned. If you’re planning to write a short book or even a short story, maybe these will help.

  • Tell don’t show. Every novelist knows that showing, not telling, is the golden rule of fiction writing. Yet the shorter the novel, the more you must tell up front. What brought the character to this place. What the character is feeling. Of course you must avoid huge information dumps and reveal a bit at a time. But you are allowed to tell more and show less. Just be sure to show the really important scenes in detail. It’s a matter of figuring out where the emotion is, where the turning points are, where the major aspects of character development occur, then showing them. Just don’t show everything, or you will have written, ahem, a novel, not a novella.
  • Choose a plot with emotion built in. Let It Snow is a lovers reunited story. My characters were once in love, but then they were separated by circumstance. Feelings run deep in a lovers reunited plot. The two main characters know each other well, but something caused them to part. So much has already happened before the book begins. And now you can tell, not show, what that was. Catch the reader up  quickly and move on. Lovers reunited is only one example. Choose a story that gets right to the emotion and the action, not one that requires a lengthy set-up.
  • Think days, not years. Once you’ve established everything important that happened before the book opened, make the most of the days when your story takes place. These are the scenes you linger over.
  • If you’re forced to use fewer words, choose them even more wisely. Every glance, every snippet of conversation, every description matters twice as much. Make every word count.

There’s nothing as gratifying as sitting down to a project you can complete in a matter of weeks or months.  It’s good for the ego, good for the soul.  Looking for a project?  Give a novella a try.

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