The Art of the Novella

Here’s my recipe for novella writing:

1. Pick people you want your characters to look like. I tend to pick my favorite actors and actresses. Novella’s tend to have a short character list, so have about half a dozen or less to start with. If you need more characters, you can give them names and rudimentary descriptions as needed.

2. Name your characters. I do this more or less randomly, but if I have a few people I think look related, I might decide to give them the same surname. If I’ve got twins (usually the Phelps brothers) I obviously give them the same surname. If I’ve got someone I want to look like Morgan Freeman and someone I want to look like Alan Rickman, they’re probably not going to be related, so they’re probably NOT going to have the same surname. I say probably because I can always make people of different races related by marriage. I could always toy with stuff like that, but I haven’t done it yet (Just add it to my to-do list!).

3. Decide how your characters relate and interact with each other and their surroundings. Who likes who? Is Character X Character P’s uncle, grandfather, teacher? Do they get along? This can get sort of complicated and lead straight into the next step.

4. Decide on the general plot. Remember those plot diagrams you had to do in secondary school? Yeah, make one of those, at least mentally. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can even change as you go. But it’s best to have some idea where you’re going before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

5. Make a list of events. Plot points, events… by character, by anything but chronology even if it’s just by how they hit you in the face as they come to you. Getting them all out on paper in a list is important.

6. Make an outline. Take your list and put it in chronological order. I divide it by chapters, putting one or two of these events in each chapter for a novella, three events in a chapter for a novel. With the novels, I put three sub-events in each event, but as my novella chapters are about half the length, I don’t bother. If your chapters will have different viewpoints, think about this when you divide up the chapters. You don’t want to put an event in a chapter where the POV person couldn’t have at least witnessed it.

7. Write! Write from your outline, write scenes that come to you spontaneously… You can always change things to make ideas you have and like fit in later. Writing is the most obvious step of creating a novella, and yet it’s typically the hardest for the writer to do. I tend to keep my novella chapters around 1500 words long, certainly not often shorter. Fifteen to twenty chapters seem to be a good length, but it will depend on your work, what makes the most sense.

8. Edit and revise. Go back and read the manuscript when you’ve finished. Some people do this with each chapter before moving onto the next, some (like me) just do it all at the end, looking for inconsistencies to fix and whatnot. This is especially important for a novella, which is short enough that even a not-so-careful reader can stop inconsistencies. Have a trusted friend or colleague who’s capable of the work edit and give revision ideas. I use Natalie Cannon (you can too! contact her for details!), and then usually pass it along to other friends and family to have them read it for things Natalie might have missed. This usually has to do with believebility. My parents are nurses, for example, and E. M. McBride is studying hospital administration. They know a lot about health and health care that Natalie doesn’t know about and I know a limited amount about. If it’s about sports, I ask my brothers, or my dad. You’d be surprised what people will catch.

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About Charlotte Blackwood

Charlotte Blackwood is a self-employed aspiring author working on perfecting her first novella/ first novel. She is a current student at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. If you're looking for a reading list (someday she'll add her own works to the list), she's currently supporting Anna Karenina, anything by Dickens, anything by Tolkien, anything by JK Rowling, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Hunger Games.

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