Monday, 6 April 2015

The novella comes into its own, by Jenny Harper

A day off work!
When I was in India in January, I wrote a novella. Well, almost all of it – I finished the last two or three thousand words when I came home. I wrote the outline on the plane to Dubai (we flew onwards to Trivandrum) and started as soon as I had caught up on sleep.

Writing a novella was a target I had set myself. I had three reasons for this.

  1. I'd become enmeshed in a difficult plot line for the sequel to People We Love and have had to work really hard to write myself through it. I saw writing a novella as a treat to myself.
  2. Several readers have told me they love the Hailesbank settings of my novels and would like to know more about some of the characters. I thought it would be really fun to take a minor character and really think about his or her back story.
  3. It's a great way of hooking new readers into your work. Hopefully, if they like this short read, they might be tempted to come back for more.
Novellas have traditionally been exceptionally difficult to publish. Traditional publishers aren't keen on them – they are too much work for too little return – but the advent of the ebook has changed all that. As concentration spans grow shorter and shorter, and people become busier and busier, many readers – working mums in particular, I believe – are opting for quick, short, satisfying reads. These works seldom make it into print, but are quick and easy to produce in ereader form.

Are they long short stories or short novels? To my mind, more of a long short story. You have the luxury of being able to develop your characters and setting more than in a short story, but have to discipline yourself by limiting the number of characters and settings, and excising subplots.

Now, I'm no expert (having written only one novella!), but here are my observations:
  1. Set up the central conflict right away – there's no time to lose!
  2. Limit your characters as much as you can. Mine are the heroine, her daughter, and an old flame. Other characters have walk-on parts only.
  3. Don't have too many settings. I intended my novella to be a summer short, so I wanted the main setting to be really evocative of sea and sun and sand. I settled on the small french resort of Arcachon, south of Bordeaux. However, my heroine lives in Hailesbank, near Edinburgh (which is where followers of my work will have first met her), so there are some scenes set at home too.
  4. Keep the plot simple and avoid sub plots.
  5. I tried to follow the adage for short stories ('In, twist, out') to build tension, offer a surprise, followed by a satisfying conclusion.
A view from my 'desk' (otherwise known as a sunbed).
I wrote most of the work while I was sitting by the swimming pool at our hotel in Kovalam, Kerala (south India). Friends, it was sheer bliss! Who wouldn't love being able to work in that kind of setting? And I'm delighted to say that the finished novella, Sand in Your Shoes, has been accepted by Accent Press and should be available in June.

Now I can't wait to indulge myself by writing another one!

Have you written a novella? If so, what has been your experience?


  1. Interesting post, Jenny. I have to say I prefer full-length novels and very rarely read novellas. I do like the idea of reading more about the interesting minor characters met in novels, though and in fact Linda Mitchelmore just blogged about this on another site. As I have been immersed in Hailesbank on several occasions I will definitely read Sand in Your Shoes.

    1. Thank you, Mary.I haven't read many novellas either, though I shall look out for them more now!

  2. I quite like a novella - I certainly prefer it to something that's padded to make a 'proper' novel, and I've read a few of those. Not all stories are long ones, after all.
    And Sand in My Shoes is terrific.

    1. Thanks Jennifer! You're pretty much the only person who has read it, except my editor.

  3. Really interesting, Jenny. I've written 4 novellas for People's Friend, but at 50,000 words each I would definitely say they are more of a short novel than a long short story. How long is yours? I'm intrigued by the whole concept, and that it was such fun to write. Looking forward to reading it.

    1. That's quite long! Accent wanted 15-20,000, which suited me just fine. Mine is 20,000. Don't PF bring them out as little booklets? This will be only an ebook.

  4. I like writing and reading novellas, Jenny - nice change from full-length now and then. Good idea to write one in the same setting as your novels! I'm aiming to turn two short stories into novellas at some point.

    1. You have so much in your cupboard, Rosemary! Good luck with those, let me know when they're out.

  5. Apologies for coming late to the party. This is a very interesting post, Jenny. I have had two novellas published with Choc Lit and they came about from serials I wrote and tried to sell, unsuccessfully, to D C Thomson. They just needed tweaking and sexing up, as it were, because sex not allowed in womag serials. Funnily enough, of my six titles out there, the one that has had the most success is my contemporary novella GRAND DESIGNS.....not in terms of money earned but in copies sold. So... to that end another contemporary novella is on my publisher's desk. Good luck with yours.

  6. The whole writing thing is a great journey of discovery, isn't it? Look forward to your next novella, Linda!

  7. Well done, Jenny.
    I was perusing Amazon, recently, and surprised by the number of novellas out there.
    Food for thought...