Is 30 the New 60?

See full issue for 2017 04-24

By that I mean, is 30,000 words the new 60,000 words? Books. We're talking about books. Again.

As a reader, I used to be VERY anti-novella. I mean, I want the most bang for my buck, so give me ALL THE PAGES. Right? Not exactly.

I used to think an entire story couldn’t possibly be told in less than 50,000 words. In fact, many novellas I read “way back then” didn’t feel finished. I’d reach the last page and wonder about all kinds of things. In reality, though, I picked a few duds. Novellas (which, depending on the publisher, can range between 15,000 and 50,000 words, with those shorter than 20,000 to 30,000 words, but longer than 15,000 words, often called novelettes) sometimes give the author a better framework to tell a hard-hitting, intense tale that is totally satisfying. We’ll get to that. For now, back to me changing my mind about novellas.

As I get older, I find it’s harder for me to focus on things. It doesn’t always seem like it, but I have a lot of balls in the air, and my brain is thinking about way too many things at any given time. Because of that, I’m extremely easy to distract. This means a book has to be non-stop action or have some damn fine writing to keep me turning all 300 pages. A novella, though, is perfect. Read it in a day or two and be so very happy.

On the writing side of things, I resisted the novella until December (2016), because I just couldn’t see how I could tell a “big” story in less than a novel number of pages. I have a novella that I finished in December coming out via DarkFuse in April called Cats Like Cream. Actually, it’ll be serialized in the magazine first, and then published in August (these things always change, so you know). And I have a second novella, Church, which is scheduled for release in October via Unnerving Magazine.

As I wrote these (with the goal of producing a novella) I had to curb the instinct to include unnecessary (although, interesting) side-stories and sub-plots, and keep the writing to the meat of the story. It made for a very frustrating first draft. However, when I finished, I kind of liked the challenge, and the story itself is intense, so it worked out well.

I went on to write five more novellas after the first, because I really like the format and I’m kind of addicted to the art of writing tight, so no words are wasted.

You might be wondering why a reader would care how long your book is. They don’t usually, but sometimes the reader sees “novella” and expects a smaller price tag. Understandable, but what I see happening more often is readers putting story quality above word count, and that’s awesome.

So, let’s pretend we’re all undecided on whether or not to tackle writing a novella. A few pros and cons might help:

PRO: Less is More

Novels give us lots of room to maneuver our characters and plot around. This means we sometimes water things down a little (unintentionally). With a novella (or something shorter), we’re forced to use the minimum number of words possible to gain maximum effect. It sharpens our skill as writers (if we’re doing it right) and by forcing us to use only what is necessary, the result is a bite-sized story that feels like a meal, which readers love.

CON: Money

Many (including myself) have complained that buying a novella (often priced similar to a novel) is like paying for an econo-sized bag of Doritos, and only getting one of those tiny bags you give out at Halloween. However, I’ve learned that I’m not paying for number of pages. I’m paying for quality. I’ll pay a high price for a book I know is going to give me a reading experience I won’t forget, and there are never any regrets.

PRO: Time

Your time, the reader’s, everyone’s time is short these days. We’re all busy bees doing this and that, so many of us just don’t have time to enjoy reading. Sure, we make it, but I’ve found it can take me more than a week to read a novel and I don’t think I’m the exception. This is why the shorter stories are perfect. Many novellas can be read in a couple of evenings or on your day off. And it makes it easier to get at more of our “to be read” lists, which is always important.

CON: Incomplete

Some feel a novella doesn’t seem finished. To that I say, you’re reading the wrong authors. Short fiction is a wondrous world where writers cut and polish a story to its minimum number of words, while still telling a full story. The thing I love about short fiction as a reader is that feeling of wanting more. Think about the novels you’ve read that stay with you. Those 300 to 500 page gems where you get to the last page and you’re sad it’s over. You want to stay in that world. It means the writer was good. The story was good. You cared about the characters. Why do we assume the same feeling after reading a short story means it wasn’t finished? If the conflict/plot is resolved, it is finished. If you’re sitting there wanting more, then pick up another one. Or just enjoy wondering “what if?” about the characters you just left.

CON: Vague

A lazy writer will avoid description when writing short fiction. A good writer knows how to give you only what you need, while making it feel like they’ve given everything. That’s the difference between a well written novella and one written by someone who is just to lazy to write the whole story.

PRO: Nothing to lose

Because novellas are shorter, they generally take less time to finish (in rough draft). This means even if you don’t like what you’ve done, you haven’t wasted anything. You can go back during editing, flesh out the parts you want to expand on, or add sub-plots and such, and you haven’t lost anything. So why not give it a go?

How do you all feel about novellas, both as authors and as readers? If you haven't tried them (reading or writing), what's holding you back?



Renee Miller

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