Guest post by L.G Keltner
I’ve written and self-published several novellas, as well as a handful of short stories, and I’ve learned a lot about writing shorter works throughout the process. There was a time when I exclusively wrote novels (though none of them were good enough to be published), and when I did sit down to write something shorter, the main criticism I got was that my short stories read more like novels. This was painful to hear, but the criticism helped me in the long run. While I’ve gotten better at writing short stories over the years, I still found myself wanting to tell longer tales as well, but penning a novel takes a long time. I wanted to get my work in front of readers more quickly than that. What to do?
Until recently, I hadn’t considered writing novellas.
Novellas can be tricky, because there isn’t even a universally accepted definition of what a novella is.
The SFWA defines a novella as a written work ranging between 17,500-40,000 words, but I’ve seen many other ranges sited. Novellas seemed to me to occupy this no-man’s land between short stories and novels that made traditionally publishing them nearly impossible. The novellas you do see traditionally published tend to come from well-established authors. However, a lot of indie authors have found success in self-publishing novellas in recent years. I saw that success and wondered if I could achieve it too.
Before I sat down to write my first novella, I wanted to know what the benefits of writing one might be.
One obvious one was that I could tell a more complicated story than I could if I were writing a short story. I could have a larger cast of characters and a more complicated conflict. I’d have more room to explore that conflict and the characters caught up in it. At the same time, the structure of a novella is simpler than a novel. There are fewer loose ends to worry about. Fewer subplots. The novella allows you to really focus on one thing and get a good look at it.
Another benefit is that an author can turn out multiple novellas in a year, versus sinking a significantly longer chunk of time into a novel. This isn’t to say that novels aren’t worth that kind of time and attention, because they are. At the same time, there’s something satisfying about finishing a project, and I find myself more motivated to write when I can look at the things I’ve managed to complete. Writing novellas has given me that sense of accomplishment that I desperately needed to keep me working.
Novellas definitely deserve more respect than they’ve been given.
Traditional publishers shied away from them in recent decades because of the idea that readers simply didn’t want to read them. However, a lot of people don’t realize how many famous novellas they’ve come across in their lives. George Orwell’s Animal Farm clocks in at about 30k words. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness comes in at under 40k. The beloved A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a mere 28k words, but it still resonates today.
There’s some heartening news when it comes to novellas, though. The success of indie authors, in combination with the ease of publishing e-books, has prompted some traditional publishers to seek out novellas again. I think this is a good thing. Authors shouldn’t feel as if they can’t tell the story they yearn to tell because it isn’t suitable as a short story or novel, and readers deserve to have access to all kinds of tales, whatever their word count.
About the Author
L.G. Keltner enjoys writing primarily science fiction, YA, and humor, though she’ll dabble in any genre when inspiration strikes. Her publications include the Self-Help 101 series and the short story “Felix Was Here” in the sci-fi anthology Parallels: Felix Was Here. L.G. lives in Iowa with her husband and children.