Top Tips on How to Write a Novella

And stop it becoming the first novel in a twelve-book series

Matt Mason

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Most fiction writers tend to work with one or two types of stories. The first is the short story, typically anything up to 8,000 words. The second is the novel — typically anything over 40,000 words.

Photo by Chris Spiegl on Unsplash

There are various length works between these — novelettes, novellas, and short novels with little agreement across genres or writers' associations.

I don’t want to argue semantics or word counts so I’m going with my personal belief that a novella is between 20k and 40k, mostly because those numbers are easy to remember.

So you’ve decided to write a novella and you don’t want to run the risk of it becoming something longer.

Novellas are fun and rewarding, but they’re not easy. If you have two broad mindsets when writing — 1) how to write a short story and 2) how to write a novel, you’re going to need to break some self-imposed boundaries and blur the lines between the two.

Abandon any thought of subplots

Novellas don’t usually have them. Much like the short story, it’s all about the main plot — understand it fully and ensure that every chapter focuses on driving that story forward. There is a single conflict that the story drives towards a conclusion.

In situations where a novella does have a subplot (rare) it is no more than one and will always be critical to the main thread. Keep these to a minimum and keep them relevant.

Fewer characters

There is typically just one main character. The more main characters you have, the fewer secondary and incidental characters there should be. This is the approach I took in my two zombie novellas Dead Heat and Dead Lock. With four main characters, I had no secondary characters — all others who appeared were incidental (they made a single appearance). Incidental characters simply must drive the story forward.

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Matt Mason

Freelance writer. Medium is my place to muse and vent the serious and the frivolous: asexuality, childfree living, gaming, society, satire and more.