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This Writing Life: The Lure of the Novella, Part 1

6 April, 2014

It’s fair to say that my life has been fairly busy recently. For a while, that meant writing was, unfortunately, low on my agenda, lost in the chaos of moving house, home improvements and all the trials associated with setting up a new business. So much chaos, in fact, that I genuinely began to despair. My head was still absolutely filled with ideas, my computer with half-finished stories, and my fingers were itching to write – but how could I possibly find the time to sit down and write a whole novel?

It took me several months to realise there was another side to that question. I could make time, given enough determination, but it was concentration that was still in short supply. After all, if you’ve ever tried to write a novel, you’ll know how difficult it can be to keep every single plot, character and event in your head; I raced through my last proper first draft in just three months, and there were still dozens of inconsistencies (some more major than others!) when I came to revise it. How, then, was I going to keep track of 80,000+ words when it might take me a year or more to write them? (One answer, of course, is to make sense of them in revisions, but if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know how much I love editing. /sarcasm)

The answer, it seems, is to write something that requires rather less concentration. If I were sensible, I would perhaps think of short stories at this point, but after repeated attempts, I’ve discovered short stories just aren’t my thing. I rarely read them; I even more rarely write them, and when I do, I’m always dissatisfied with the results. (I also can’t help but feel that many of the short story markets I find most appealing simply wouldn’t have the faintest interest in the sorts of stories I like to write.)

What do you get, then, when you land somewhere between the realms of the short story and the novel? Answer: the novella.

It’s difficult to get an exact definition of the novella online, but essentially, it’s exactly what I’ve just described: something between 10,000 words and 70,000, below which you have a short story and above which a novel. (And you really will find a massive range of values between those two points in various descriptions of ‘novellas’. Personally, I’d probably be a bit more conservative and go with 15-20,000 up to about 50,000.)

It’s novellas of around 30k words that I currently find myself writing. Whilst engaging me as deeply as a novel would, these shorter stories are also much more manageable with my limited writing time, allowing me to keep track of a single main plot and character and still tell a satisfying tale. There’s more than just convenience that’s led me to the novella, though. Right now really is an excellent time to be writing stories of this length, and in my next post, I’m going to talk about why.


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