Next month I plan to write a novella.
“Wonderful!” you say. “That’s really … wait. What is a novella?”
“Great question!” I respond.
[And everyone reading this is praying my dialoguing skills improve before they pick up one of my books.]
Back to my typical writing cadence here—that really is a wonderful question. I know my audience is pretty equally divided between writers and readers. My guess is a fair number of you really have never read a novella before. Maybe many of you sorta, kinda know what it is, but you may not be able to slap a definition on it if you had to.
So, today, I want to define it a bit for us, give you a little sneak peak at my novella’s story and tell you a little about my process so far.
What is a novella anyway?
A word on word counts …
Because I’ve been conditioned from years of writing for news and magazine publications, my immediate response swings toward word count. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to call “Sidebar!” and give you my quick rant on word counts. I promise to be brief.
I loathe word counts.
How’s that for concise?
Okay, okay, that demands an explanation. Here’s the thing. Any writer worth half their salt knows exactly how long an article, story, post, whatever should be to convey their point, tale or message. So, I always hated word counts from my editors because they didn’t always match the amount of information. Of course, I understood their side of it as well. I did my share of page layouts, so I get it. Still …
The other thing that bugs me about word counts is they tend to be subjective. Don’t believe me?
[You can’t see this, but I’m clapping my hands in glee at the moment because novellas give me the BEST example of subjectivity in word counts!]
Several months ago, I did a quick Google search for “how long is a novella.” I scanned the first page of responses for appropriate word count and chuckled at what I found. You ready? Here you go:
- 30,000 to 60,000
- 7,500 to 40,000 [Sidebar to the sidebar: another site calls 7,500 to 17,500 a novelette!]
- 17,500 to 40,000
- 20,000 to 40,000
[If you think I got way too excited over the variety in novella word counts, you should see me when I start looking up the ever-growing lists of genres and subgenres!]
My goal is to hit 40,000 words for this novella.
“Wait. Didn’t you say you loathe word counts?” (I read your mind, didn’t I?)
As much as word counts as a whole bug the mess out of me, they’re actually quite helpful when it comes to goal-setting. Plus, I know me and I know my stories, so I can fairly accurately guess how many words I’ll need. Setting a word count enables me to break my work down into chapters, scenes, etc. and pace myself during the writing process. And, the icing on the cake? I’m able to track my progress and watch that little percentage creep ever closer to 100!
Now, I’ll sum it up.
At its simplest, a novella is a story that’s too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel.
It’s a Goldilocks story!
I’ll put it another way for you. A novella is not meant to be read in one sitting, but it won’t require the entire month between your book club meetings either.
[Yes, I know there are novels that can be read in one sitting and short stories that can take longer. We’re talking in generalizations here, people!]
Have I confused you?
I hope my silly rambling hasn’t sent you fleeing for a safer spot on the web. Maybe I should have led with my personal definition of a novella.
A novella tells us a story that requires more length for its layers than a short story does but not quite as much as a full novel.
I love layers in stories. In fact, I plan to write more about those one day. For now, though, let me just say I consider layers to be all of a character’s motivations and attributes, the interactions characters have with one another (verbal, nonverbal, in person or not, etc.), the influence of the setting or surrounding events and so much more.
Some stories simply won’t require as many layers as others. Perhaps there aren’t as many characters involved in the tale. Perhaps a main character doesn’t make as drastic a change as one in a novel would, but their story spans longer than a short story can adequately cover.
These two “perhaps” lead me to telling you about my novella.
What is my novella about?
In my literary fiction novel (which I am DYING to tell you the title of, by the way), I have a character named Sam—Rev. Samuel Stevens, to be exact.
He’s a preacher in a small Southern town in Georgia when the story opens and he also serves as director for a local Christian rehab mission. He is a single dad who’s raising a daughter because his wife, Carolina, passed away after a battle with cancer.
This novella will be Sam and Carolina’s story.
Unlike many of my stories (the novel included), you already know how this one ends. It won’t be a surprise to anyone following my journey or reading the novel. My typical style is to drop a bomb on my readers at the end, so this is out of the ordinary for me. But, I simply had to tell their story.
To most people this will sound crazy, but I’m all about being real and honest and open with my writing. My characters are as real to me as the people I pass in the grocery store or on the street, but even more so because I know what drives them. I know their innermost thoughts, their demons and their dreams.
Sam is real to me. And so is Carolina.
For this reason, I had to make them both real for my readers as well.
Today my newsletter subscribers received my working synopsis for their story. I’d love to share it with you too! Just click on the big red “Join My Fellowship” button below to sign up for my weekly emails. Simply respond to my welcome email and let me know you want to read more about Sam and Carolina!
What have I done so far and what is my plan to get it written?
Last week I sat in my favorite chair in my local library and brainstormed what parts of this couple’s life I should include in their story. I already knew some of it from thinking through Sam’s character. Other aspects naturally fell into place as I started putting it on paper. A few surprises popped up too. Of course, I know more will come once I start to write.
Along with the brainstorming, I drew up a very, very rough outline which will most likely change drastically as I go. But … it’s a starting point and made me realize what I needed to change about the structure to start with!
While I was planning my writing schedule for next month and working in all the many, many variables of my life as a work-at-home writer mom, I had an epiphany! I will write this novella by hand.
Yep! Pen and paper, here I come!
Most of my short stories at least begin in notebooks. I’ve always romanticized the idea of doing a book the same way, but talked myself out of it earlier this year. Perhaps a novella will be the perfect stepping stone to that!
Earlier this week I looked back over what I jotted down and typed it up. I shared my thoughts with three of my simply incredible writing friends and asked for their feedback on some concerns I have over how to set up the story. We will be helping each other with our projects next month. You’ll get to know much more about these ladies soon, by the way!
And, that leads me to my next step …
Did I surprise you?
You did read that right. July is Camp NaNoWriMo. Now, I’m not going in depth on that today—tune in next week for more details on the program and how it works—but I will be joining writers all over the world in setting aside 31 days to focus on one project. Some will be writing, some revising. We will have writers working on novels, novellas, short stories, nonfiction books and everything in between.
I don’t know that anyone will be writing in a tent, but that could be fun! (Not in Southeast Louisiana in July, though!)
Please join me back here each week. I have some amazing guest bloggers joining me next month, so I will introduce them next week and tell you more about the crazy that is Camp NaNo! Better yet, subscribe below to my newsletter and have my post and so much more delivered straight to your inbox! (And don’t forget to reply to the welcome email and ask for more about Sam and Carolina!)
Did you know what a novella was before you bravely read all the way through my ramblings? Would you define it differently? Have you ever read or written a novella? If you read one, what did you think? Is it a format you enjoy? If you wrote one, I would love to hear your advice!