Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Novella or not to Novella? with Jessica Aspen

I haven’t talked a lot about different length/formats on this blog, so I’m inviting a couple of guests to discuss their experiences. Today Jessica Aspen is here to talk about the novella form. One thing I found interesting – a novella can actually be longer than a middle grade novel! But if you’re used to writing 80,000 to 120,000 words for an adult genre novel, I guess a mere 40,000 words is short. And her advice about keeping a story moving is good for any length.

Here’s Jessica:

Writing a novella is something I never thought I would do. Why? Too short. And besides, I’ve never been a big short story fan. Oh I’ve read a few, and I love certain authors, but truly my heart lies with longer stories and complex plots. So why did I choose to write novellas and how did they snag my heart?

During the process of submitting and polishing and resubmitting my first manuscript, I hit a point where I was in-between projects. At the same time I saw a novella contest. This seemed like something I could try, and if it didn’t pan out, I would have a good start on a full length novel. Seemed like a win-win situation. So I took the plunge.

I knew next to nothing about writing short. The last time I’d actually finished a short story was in high school? College? I couldn’t even remember. But I knew that in order to make a romance bloom in less than 40,000 words the  story arc would need to be strong and have few sub-plots.

In fact, novellas really shouldn’t have any sub-plots. At all. You can’t afford it in forty thousand words or less. At thirty-four thousand words Little Red Riding Wolf is stretching close to novel territory, believe it or not. So how to make a novella strong with few words and no sub-plots?

The key is to have strong characters and to set it up fast. The first chapter needs to show your hero, heroine, and initial conflicts and goals. More than any other fiction writing you want to jack up the tension with each page. No one wants a story that drags, but when you only have a short amount of pages, you need to pack in details like you cram extra sardines into a can. Keep your plot brief and your writing tight. But don’t leave out the details. That’s what makes your story yours and makes the readers demand more.

In challenging myself to write short, I found a secret. Writing short improved my writing. It forced me to hone my writing skills and acquire new ones in order to deliver a story that pops. Try something short and you'll find out for yourself how writing novellas can become more than a way to jump into the publishing business. They can become a labor of the heart.

 Jessica Aspen writes paranormal romance near the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Her books are full of elves, were-wolves and sexy men who walk on the dark side of the knife. Jessica loves dark chocolate, walking her dog, hiking and is obsessed with her new laptop. Jessica is also obsessed with writing and learning about writing. Her debut paranormal romance novella Little Red Riding Wolf is due to be released February 18th, 2012 from Passion in Print Press. Please visit Jessica at where she blogs about writing, paranormal romance and anything that strikes her fancy.


  1. Ah, the wonders of "writing short"! You're so right Jessica, and I really enjoyed your post. Very good advice. Writing short means keeping up the pace and leaving aside all these little subplots we writers are so fond of. Streamlining the story down to its essential points!

    I would just add a caveat (because I did like you and decided to participate in a novella contest and it didn't pan out!)I was very disappointed because I felt I had done just what you're talking about. Then I picked up my ms (that was several months after writing it of course) and I noticed something dreadful had happened: I had zeroed too much on the essentials! There was not enough detail to keep the reader interested! You do mention keeping details in, and how right you are!

    The only real difficulty is: what details to keep in, how to keep the "right" balance between details and shortness...Which is exactly why writing novellas is such a challenge (and great fun too)!

  2. Sorry your novella didn't do well in the contest. The lovely thing about the novella is that it is short and it edits easily and quickly. Perhaps after a quick edit and some nice quality details you'll consider entering it on the contest loop again. Best of luck! :)