June 17th, 2015

Summertime Fiction: Why the Novella Rocks

Kait Nolan

Summertiiiiiiiiime, and the livin’ is easy…

Summer is the season of lazy days, naps, vacations, and endless stretches of time. The perfect opportunity to catch up on your TBR pile.

Beach chair on Serenity Bay

You sit down with the latest Nora Roberts, only to have to put it down again to take the kids to their latest summer activity—swim lessons, vacation bible school, summer camp. And then your evenings get sucked up with cookouts and other fun summer social obligations.

You pack the latest Stephen King in all your vacation gear, except he never sees the light of day because you’re too busy herding relatives through the Magic Kingdom or down the over-crowded streets of Gatlinburg and trying not to wilt under the onslaught of the summer sun.

Was it this hot when you were a kid?

Pretty soon, you’re giving serious consideration to dosing the kids with an elephantine dose of Benedryl just so you can dive into the latest installment in that series you’ve been salivating over for more than a year.

Because that whole notion of summer equaling lazy actually went out the door the moment you became a productive member of society—aka A GROWN UP.

Adulting is hard, y’all, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading—especially in the summer when you don’t have the organized and consistent schedule of the school year. And that makes summer the perfect season for reading novellas.

Here’s a quick round up of some of my favorite novellas:

Home Sweet Home by Candis Terry: This is a prequel novella to Terry’s Sweet, Texas series (one of my all time faves—hot ex-military cowboys and their delightful small town, complete with a matchmaking mama and a sassy goat). This is the tale of an ex-Army Ranger and the woman (and town) who won’t give up on him.

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor: This one actually falls in between Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (books 2 and 3 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy), but it can be read out of order. This chronicles the first date between Mik and Zuzanna—and Zuzanna is in my top five favorite book characters of all time. If you can, get this one in audio because the narrators are fantastic.

Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker: Indie author Lindsay Buroker launches a fantastic western steampunk series with this novella (and follows it up with 3 others—I’m still waiting on the 5th). It’s a fast, colorful, entertaining read with marvelous worldbuilding.

The Teacher’s Vet by Wendy Sparrow: This one is a totally adorable, small town read about a single dad, his precocious daughter, and the teacher who loves them both.

Mad About Plaid by Kam McKellar: Men in kilts. Need I say more? The first of five (so far), Mad About Plaid is certain to entertain anyone who has a yen for Scotland.


For all the same reasons novellas are great summer reads, they make for fantastic summer writing projects.

How do you know a concept is a good candidate for novella length?

Well, first off, let’s establish what constitutes a novella.

The SciFi Writers of America define novellas as falling between 17,500-40,000 words. In romance, the bottom end of the novel range is 50,000 words, so to my mind, novellas hit in the neighborhood of 18k-just under 50k. In that range, you’ve got room for more detail and adventures than a short story but not as much as you’d have for a full blown novel.

Does your concept include a subplot?

Novellas generally don’t have them. I won’t say it’s impossible, but I’d wager that 9 times out of 10, adding a subplot is going to make you a member of the Over-writer’s Anonymous club. :glares at current WIP sitting at double its intended word count: It’s just very, very difficult to successfully weave in a solid subplot without adding to your word count.

Does your concept have a compressed time-frame?

This isn’t a hard and fast thing. You can certainly write a novel that takes place in a day or a short story that takes place over years. But choosing a story concept where the events happen in a compressed time-frame does tend to make it easier to stay within the necessary word count.

My paranormal romance novella Forsaken By Shadow occurs over about a week, maybe two. Its follow up, Devil’s Eye happens all in twenty-four hours. And then my contemporary romance novella Be Careful, It’s My Heart actually spanned about 3 months. The setup for that one lent itself to covering about a week a chapter. That kind of framework works very well for constraining word count.

Can your concept be written without a great deal of world-building?

Novellas require quick and dirty world-building. Just like with short stories, there’s not room to wander aimlessly around, showing all the interesting bits of whatever your setting is. World-building needs to be shown as part of the active plot. SHOWN. IMPLIED. Not waxed poetic about for unnecessary paragraphs. You have to trust your reader to have a brain and understand what you’re getting at without having it spelled out.

Do you know the crux of your story problem?

You really shouldn’t even attempt to write a novella (or anything else, for that matter) unless you can clearly state the character’s GMC (that’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict for the uninitiated–talked about in the fantastic book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by the fabulous Debra Dixon–it’s just been re-released on Kindle after being out of print for a coon’s age. (Buy it, read it, love it.)

In a nutshell, your PROTAGONIST is motivated to pursue some kind of GOAL that is the result of a NEED (that’s what motivates him or her), but bumps up against some kind of CONFLICT (an ANTAGONIST who has his own NEED). Not having a clear handle on this before you begin virtually guarantees a lot of aimless wandering that’ll eat up your word count.

BONUS: Does your concept tie in to any of your other work?

This absolutely isn’t necessary to write a novella, but it’s great for marketing purposes if it does. Novellas are fantastic, meaty bites of your work, your voice, and, as such, make great lead-ins or contributions to series and trilogies. Readers love seeing prequel stories, epilogue stories, side character stories, and in-between-and-waiting-for-the-next-book-why-the-heck-isn’t-it-out-yet stories. If you’re going to be writing a novella anyway, it’s fabulous if it can lead readers to something else. Because, really, the entire point of writing anything is to turn casual readers into permanent fans.

If you’d like to learn more about what makes a good novella, feel free to try my class The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Novella Writing: Rules of Thumb, where I cover what you need to know to write a solid novella that will keep your fan-base happy and help build your backlist.


tell me in comments about your favorite novella reads! And feel free to ask any questions you have about the novella-writing course.


About Kait

Photo by SFH Photography

Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

A passionate believer in helping others, she has founded a writing challenge designed for people who have a life (aka we NaNoWriMo rejects who can’t give everything up for the month of November). Please check out A Round of Words in 80 Days. Next Round begins July 6th!

You can catch up with her at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads or check out her latest release, To Get Me To You.

Get Me You Small

21 comments to Summertime Fiction: Why the Novella Rocks

  • Oh Kait, don’t tempt me! I’ve wanted to write a novella forever (along with short stories), but deadlines await.

    But you’re absolutely right -novellas are great to read! My faves are:

    Romance: Sharla Lovelace, Just One Day. That chick can flat WRITE sexual tension!

    Women’s Fiction: Lou Nelson’s Cora Lee. Amazing award-winner.

    Can’t wait to get more recommendations from these comments, so fling ’em, people!

  • Thanks for that overview on novellas, Kait – completely agree and it’s one of the reasons I started writing my Aphrodite and Adonis series set on Cyprus (as Romy). Short and fun!

  • This came out at the perfect time as I am writing a novella for the first time. Kait, thanks so much for the tips! Do you have any encouraging words for someone like me? I normally write Paranormal Romance and my novella is contemporary romance. I appreciate it. 🙂

    • Changing horses like that is definitely a challenge (and one I have gone through myself–I started in paranormal before shifting over to contemporary). I think trying something in short form is a great way to make that transition. One thing that I’ve found is that I have to have a VERY clear idea of what the story problem is and how the character arcs move in contemporary because you don’t have the fall back of action and fight scenes (usually) that you often do in paranormal. So give that some thought and kind of work through it before you seriously dive in. It’ll help when you get to the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle and go HUUUH? At that point, always go back and make sure you have a clear external problem with a DEFINED sort of solution. Having that defined endpoint makes figuring out the steps to get there that much easier.

  • Fantastic overview of novellas. Flash Gold is an excellent recommended read as well. It’s a lot of fun, with interesting characters, in a short span of time.

    • I love the Flash Gold series! Can’t wait for the fifth–talk about a long haul romance…I’ve been shipping Cedar and Kali from the get go!

  • I really enjoyed the “half” books for all four of these series:

    Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum
    Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove
    Eloisa James’ Fairy Tale Series
    Courtney Milan did it for several of her series.

    The novellas and shorter reads are great because you get to visit with the characters and just read 80-120 pages or so. 🙂

  • I usually grab the ones that are on Kindle for 99 cents in boxed sets. I don’t’ have kiddos or any other interference except last week I had to go pick up the niece from work. Her dad was out of town and I was tagged. It took me longer to read the latest Nora Roberts, The Liar, I read af the end of the day before bed. But, I read it. I don’t worry about word counts on what I read. If it’s by the favorite author I’ll read it even in spurts.I never sit and read a book cover to cover until I’m done anymore. Not since I developed a strong bond with a computer-lol.

    • If I wasn’t spending most of my free time writing my own work, I’d do EXACTLY the same 🙂 I haven’t gotten to The Liar yet. It’s been sitting on my kindle waiting for an uninterrupted weekend (which totally hasn’t happened).

  • I loved the paranormal romance Reach for the Sky by Gwen Knight.

  • I love to read novellas for a couple of reasons. One is like what you were saying…it doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can read it between doing all the things. But, also, I like to read a lot of books in a lot of genres. So if I read novellas, I get to read MORE books. 🙂

  • […] On reading and writing novellas. […]

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