Novellas: the Original “Movies” & Why You Should Write One
Novellas are “defined” as short novels or long stories, but I beg to differ…
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So, I was watching one of my favorite scary movies the other day while I was trying to write. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Usually, I can do so with little problem; but, it’s my favorite for a reason. I was thinking about the storyline and the writer in me started thinking about how it’s crafted. (It’s a gift and a curse to auto-do that all the time.) Anyway, I had to think about, Why do I like horror movies and not drama, thriller, comedy, or others? Other than the obvious answer that I’m just not a movie person…
Horrors–good ones at least–jump into the action and keep me wanting more the whole time. Not to mention that everything has a purpose and won’t likely be coincidental, but placed. Those are only two reasons of the many I brainstormed. It’s a lot to accomplish in only one sitting. As print writers, is it possible for us to do the same in our novels? Not really.
Novels are long and drawn out, answering every question like a show series if it’s well-written (hate those, too). Short stories are a burst of awesome, but, not quite enough to feed our hunger for a journey while we’re caught up in our own lives. So, just watch movies and stop reading? Never!
There are these awesome things called novellas, and–oh, man–they’re the cream of the crop to me!
- They are much easier to write than a novel for those of us who have too many story ideas and not enough attention span.
- They only need the skills of a short story to adapt a novel-potential idea.
- And, best of all, they can be written in 2 weeks or less if you’re only writing a few hours a day.
- Not to mention, they can be read in less than a day for the average reader. Y’know, those of us who read and process every word rather than speed read.
It’s a writer’s dream when we have too much on our minds and not enough coffee in our systems.
Related Article — “5 Reasons Why You Should Write a Novella” from InkandQuills.com
Remember, novellas are not short novels. Instead, they are like written movies. Both have a limited amount of time and space to account a full story that engages the audience. If you lose the audience at any point, it takes a miracle to truly redeem yourself–if you even get the chance. A novella-ist must depict only what is absolutely necessary to understand the conflict at hand. To me, the novella-ist is much more respectable than the average novelist because–in my experience–a story is much easier to expand than to cut.
This is what you need to pull it off.
Use Flashbacks and Dialogue for Exposition
So, flashbacks are cut scenes representing a memory or things similar. Usually, you don’t want to have too much of this (unless there is trauma or psychic circumstances). But, novellas–like the rest of us–are not usual. In these short and sweet stories, flashbacks are encouraged as a way to deal with exposition. Again, you have to get to the nitty gritty of the story and have little time to flounce in the characters’ past. But, if there are elements of the past that are important to understanding how our characters and conflict have gotten to this point, get on it! In the same way, you can use dialogue. Talk about the past, make references, the conversation is key.
If you are a little more iffy about the flashbacks, you can always
Try Time Jumps
BUT, I warn you: if you jump time, it needs to only show important pieces. So many people mess up and do time jump between simple things. Walking down the street, getting to the mall, talking to a friend. If you have that much little stuff happening, that’s a problem within itself.
If there is a death in the character’s past and that affects his/her depression conflict now, jump from that action then to the start of the story now. We need nothing else in between. Use dialogue to reference the aftermath, but don’t waste time describing it in order.
Everything needs to be purposeful in novellas. We need to account for the moments that drive the MAIN conflict, not the others.
Which brings me to my next point.
Focus on a Primary Conflict
Of course, every conflict in life comes with many more smaller ones as a result. But, remember, we ain’t got time for all the little things. You have 17.5-40k words to develop a full story (average for novellas). That’s only 100-200 pages, max! If your character is in war, follow the war. You can’t develop all the comradery, his family back home, his fears, and the enemy! Something’s gotta go.
While you can still reference some of this in actions and dialogues, there are too many variables that can’t be explained. Answer the questions of your main conflict only. Otherwise, write a novel.
Struggling to Develop a Story? — Pixarian Storytelling Series
Speaking of which:
More vivid words and less figurative language.
I know; that goes against everything we’ve taught about creative writing. But, you can still help the reader experience the story and not over-describe everything. As much as we like to paint a picture, the non-artist will only notice 2-3 things of that portrait that will vividly stand out. So, don’t tell us anything except those things (s)he would notice.
He’s in jeans and a T-shirt, she’s in a form-fitting dress. That’s great and all, but nobody cares about their clothes. Unless she’s ashamed of him because they’re at a high-end restaurant and he came like that. Or, she overdressed to sexually tempt him and he can’t help but notice every fiber. She doesn’t need to “taper in and out like the glass of a classic Coca-Cola bottle”; “her hourglass curves are obvious in the dress” works just fine.
Never Slow Down
Novellas are constant movement, just like a movie. Nothing’s worse than getting all into a horror movie, then, right before the monster shows up, the couple stops and confesses their love from childhood to now. Yeah, that’s great and all, but, you’re going to die anyway, so, let’s just get on with it already!
Hit the ground running and don’t stop until you pass out at the finish line! If your character isn’t acting in the conflict, (s)he should be talking about, thinking about, or preparing for it. There’s no dull moment. Think about it: once a horror movie, once the first person died, the movie is nothing but tension and adrenaline the rest of the time until the end. Same thing with a novella.
Remember: if you lose audience attention in a novella, you’re losing the battle for connecting with them!
Related Article — “Why Novellas are Making a Comeback” from Aliventures.com
Horror movies are an excellent example of how to build any kind of novella.
Like I said, I’m all about that novella life, and prefer those over novels any day. Especially if you read to escape instead of reflect.
So, what do you think about the novella? Do you notice any other parallels between the film and print text? Let’s talk about it: comment, share, and follow! And, you can download free workbooks and handouts if you sign up for the bi-weekly Writer’s Wisdom newsletter
I just finished my first attempt at a novel but it turned out to be a novella. I want to go the traditional publishing route – I can’t imagine doing the marketing part on my own – but I’m afraid agents and publishers will tell me it’s too short.
Publishing a novella is harder to do the traditional route. There are many ways to expand your novella to be full-length, though. I would recommend that you first look at the conflicts and see if there are some underlying problems that need to be emphasized.
Hi! How can a writer know whether to split a story into multiple novellas or to keep it as a full length novel?
Well, if you have too many main conflicts, you can divide your work up. But, you would plan your novellas the same way you do your novels; so, if your idea can be a series, then you could write a series of novellas.
I’m glad I came across your blog. I usually write screenplays, but often the formatting gets in the way of my creative flow. I’d rather have the content first and worry about formatting later. I also need to pen more quickly the multiple stories that have been running around in my head, but I know I don’t have enough words to fill a novel. I think the way forward is by writing one novella at a time. Thank you!
Yes! Novellas are fabulous reads to me and there is a growing market for them in some genres. I know my ideas usually aren’t a full novel, either, so novellas are what I write. Good luck with yours!