Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Guest Post: "Switch Up: Novels to Novellas" by Susan Van Kirk

Please welcome author Susan Van Kirk as she has some thoughts on moving from novels to novellas…

Switch Up: Novels to Novellas

Novellas are becoming very popular because they can be read on the commuter train going to work, or in one or two sittings between tasks on your to-do list. In my case, experimenting with a novella was a practical decision. My traditional publisher decided that my second mystery would not be out in June as previously scheduled. Two years between books in a series makes for a terrible loss of time and readership interest. Self-publishing a novella, or multiple novellas, would fill in some blanks in the period of time between novels. Novellas would also allow me to explore other characters in my Endurance series. My first novella, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, will be out as a Kindle e-book this month. My first novel, Three May Keep a Secret, is already out, and my second novel, Marry in Haste, will be out on November 16, 2016.

So, what did I need to think about when switching from novels to a novella?

Length. A novella fits somewhere between a short story and a novel. Whereas my three written mysteries [two yet to be published] are 71,000 words, 82,000 words, and 74,000 words, a novella must be much shorter. [In page numbers, those equal 239, 272, and 258.] The length of a novella is approximately 20,000 to 40,000 words, or 80-160 pages. This change in length calls for some real changes in the way a novel-writing author approaches a novella. Here are four areas an author should consider:

Plot and Structure. Like a novel, a novella begins with a strong hook to bring the reader into the story quickly. However, a novella must have fewer, if any, subplots. Instead, the writer needs to have one plot that allows for many complications. The time period of the plot must also be shorter. Now the author does not have the luxury of stringing out the plot through months or maybe years. A novella usually covers anywhere from days to a few weeks. Finally, a novella often has an unexpected twist at the end of the plot.

Characters and Point of View (POV). Unlike a novel with a few main characters and a supporting cast, a novella will generally have one main character, and any supporting characters will have to have a darn good reason to be in the plot. That main character will be well-rounded, but other characters will have much less description than you might see in a full-length novel. Rarely will a novella have more than one POV. This limits the writer to what that one character thinks or experiences.

Conflict. The conflict in a novella must be easily recognizable early and then continue as the main focus of the story. The author does not have time for side problems or room for descriptions of settings. The one conflict is the focus, and since the pace of a novella must be fast, the writer must have many complications for this one conflict. The length of the novella will depend on the number of complications.
Revision. Unlike the luxurious, rambling pace of a novel, a novella must be streamlined. This means the writer must cut out all unnecessary words and make sure the verbs are strong. Because the novella has a single focus and limited space, serious cutting of the various drafts is a necessity.

My very, very first novella—yes, I’m excited—will launch as an e-book on April 10, 2016. It is approximately 82 pages (25,000 words), and follows TJ Sweeney, the detective in my Endurance mysteries. While Grace Kimball, the main character of my mysteries, shows up in a couple of cameos, she is a supporting character in my novella. The conflict begins with a cold case and follows Sweeney as she tries to solve the identity of a murder victim from decades earlier. Besides being a mystery, it has wonderful history from the 1940s.

Susan Van Kirk ©2016

Susan Van Kirk is the author of a nonfiction memoir, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Her Endurance mysteries are published by Five Star/Cengage and include Three May Keep a Secret and Marry in Haste (Nov. 2016). The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is out this month on Kindle from Amazon. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and its Guppy Chapter, and also Mystery Writers of America. While she is often visiting her children in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, she can also be found at home in a small town in the middle of Illinois. Visit her website at


Debra H. Goldstein said...

Appreciate the explanation of differences between the requirements for a novel and for a novella.

Jan Christensen said...

This is great information, and I am seriously thinking of writing some novellas myself. Thanks for the advice.

Susan said...

Thanks, Debra.
Jan, I really enjoyed writing a shorter piece. You may too.

Georgia Ruth said...

You have well-expressed my thoughts about contemporary time constraints. Life seems to be so complicated, and a novella would tidily fit into a busy schedule. I have a short story that begs to be longer, and this seems a project worth tackling. Thanks for the confirmation and guidelines.