Quick Tips on Writing a Novelette
Quick Tips on Writing a Novelette
The novelette is often labelled, erroneously, as a “long short story” or a “short novella”. In fact, the novelette is a category in its own right. By strict definition, it’s a stand-alone work of fiction that’s between 7,500 and 17,500 words in length. Famous examples in the horror genre are Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The novelette offers the satisfaction of writing a complex long-form piece requiring a similar kind of devotion to plot and character as the novella or novel, but in a more manageable size. I’ve written and had published a few novelettes. My latest is The Again-Walkers (Demain Publishing), a supernatural-Viking-noir-horror tale of about 13,500 words.
Fancy trying your hand at a novelette? Or, if you’re writing a piece that’s already hit the 5,000-word mark, do you want to dig a little deeper into the narrative and develop your short story into a novelette? Here are my tips.
Know the parameters
Remember, the novelette sits between 7,500 and 17,500 words, firm. This distinction is important to editors, publishers, and to the judges of writing awards and competitions. Anything shorter than 7,500 words is a short story. Anything between 17,500 and 40,000 words is a novella. (Personally, my sweet spot for the novelette lies between 10,000 and 14,000 words.)
Because their length was considered awkward by traditional print-book publishers, novelettes were comparatively rare in the twentieth century. The digital revolution has made e-books commonplace and, without physical space restrictions, the novelette is now more popular than ever. However, relative to the short story and novel, it’s still a niche product. You’ll have fewer markets to choose from, but make this challenge lift your writing game.
You can dramatically improve your odds of publication simply by (a) sticking to the prescribed word limits, and (b) submitting to markets that specifically want novelettes.
Plot points are key
Never artificially stretch a short story to meet a word count. I mean never. Editors, publishers and discerning readers can sniff out padding from a mile away. You need to ensure that your idea has “legs”, and that its legs are long enough to cover at least 7,500 words.
The solution: write an outline first. Brainstorm the bare bones of your plot. I’m not suggesting pages of work, just a few jotted notes will do. Most importantly, know your ending, because the ending is what pulls your plot through the narrative and creates the dramatic tension.
There’s no ideal number of plot points for a novelette – that depends on the type of story you’re trying to create – but as a very rough guide, I think you need 10 at a minimum. That includes the inciting incident and the denouement. (For context, The Again-Walkers had about 20 plot points.)
Novels usually have one or more subplots that contribute to the main narrative. However, a novelette is typically too short for such distractions. My advice is to focus your attention on your main plot. If you want to construct a story with lots of interesting twists and turns – and who doesn’t? – make sure those twists and turns are built upon your central conflict. In The Again-Walkers, my central conflict is: will they commit the crime and, if so, will they get away with it?
Focus on worldbuilding
Unlike the short story, the novelette has sufficient breathing space to include detailed intricacies of your fictional milieu. Firstly, detail helps build mood. Secondly, the verisimilitude that detail provides helps to suspend reader disbelief. My novelette The Again-Walkers is set in ninth-century Denmark. With 13,500 words to play with, I was able to flesh out the village and its social structure, and include specifics about clothing, food and the everyday routine of a woman’s life. When done carefully and judiciously, worldbuilding brings a story to life in the reader’s imagination.
The space for worldbuilding is one of the novelette’s greatest strengths, so play to it.
A single character’s perspective is easier to wrangle
With the luxury of length, novellas and novels can comfortably hold two or more point-of-view characters. Not so the novelette. Without skilful handling, you might end up with a choppy, head-hopping feel to your story that could irritate or confuse your reader. And if that reader is an editor, they’ll likely send a rejection letter.
Consider opting for the perspective of just one character – typically, your main character – especially if you’ve never written a novelette before. This is one of the easiest ways to keep your plot, themes and mood on track.
Of course, you can choose first- or third-person POV, whichever you feel expresses your story the best. (A quick refresher: first-person uses the pronoun “I”, while third-person uses “he” and “she”.) Take advantage of such a tight focus by elaborating on your story’s worldbuilding, and paying attention to themes, motifs and symbols.
If you’ve never done it before, writing a novelette is a fun, engaging and relatively quick way of taking a deep dive into a long-form story. And if you’ve already written a novelette, I hope you feel encouraged to write another one.
THE AGAIN-WALKERS BLURB
To end a blood feud between two Viking families, Svana Norup is offered as a peace-pledge bride to blacksmith, Hallkell Jenson. Within weeks of moving to Hallkell’s village, however, Svana meets and falls for the shepherd, Agmundr Rask. If Svana and Agmundr want to make a life together, they must first get rid of Hallkell. But can the lovers risk murder when Hallkell might return from the dead to take revenge?
The Again-Walkers was first published in Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories by Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia, 2017).
Amazon US Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Again-Walkers-Deborah-Sheldon-ebook/dp/B09ZPHZM12/
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Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes poems short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Her latest titles are The Again-Walkers, Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories, and Man-Beast. Deb’s award-nominated titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and the collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories.
Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and longlisted for a Bram Stoker. Deb’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Island, Quadrant, Andromeda Spaceways, AntipodeanSF and Dimension6.
Her fiction has also been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror.
She has won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award twice: for Midnight Echo 14 and for the anthology she conceived and edited Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies.
Deb’s other credits include TV scripts such as NEIGHBOURS, feature articles for Australian, US and UK magazines, non-fiction books (Reed Books, Random House), stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
Visit her at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com