How to write a novella

person sitting outside, knees up, resting notebook on knee, writing

person sitting outside, knees up, resting notebook on knee, writing
A novella is longer than a short story

A novella is defined as longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. How long is a novella? There are different definitions, but for this blog post, a novella is defined as:


60 – 120 pages


7,500 – 40,000 words


The plot is more complex than flash fiction or a short story but will have less subplots and characters than a novel.


The term ‘novella’ was first used in the early Renaissance period (1350 – 1600) in Italy and the word originates from the Italian for ‘new’. Collections of 70 – 100 tales were published by Italian and French authors. These collections were known as novellas.


German writers redeveloped the definition in the 18th and 19th centuries, defining a novella as a work of fiction that contained a single conflict with a turning point and a logical but sometimes unexpected ending.


Famous novellas include:

Charles Dickens, (1843), A Christmas Carol

Robert Louis Stevenson, (1886), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

George Orwell, (1945), Animal Farm

H.G.Wells, (1885), The Time Machine

John Steinbeck, (1937), Of Mice and Men

Novellas are often used for UK English syllabuses because the length makes them easier to read. The best ones can contain complex plots in just a few pages.


Where to publish a novella?

A novella is not usually offered a contract by a traditional publishing house: the length is too short. Some magazines will take novellas. Other uses for a novella might include:

  • offering it for a subscribed readership
  • serialising it on your blog (will need cliffhangers and other devices to encourage readers to read on
  • as a giveaway with a newsletter
  • self-publishing it as a standalone novella


Reasons to write a novella may also include:

  • exploring characters in a longer setting than a short story
  • writing more than in a short story without committing to a full size novel
  • try out a new genre that is unfamiliar to them
  • speed – a novella may be quicker to write than a full-length novel



Read lots of novellas. Many authors have written novellas to explore side characters or a specific event that was alluded to within a main novel. You may find novellas on Kickstarter, or by following some favourite authors. Start with some of the ones mentioned above. Read critically, for narrative structure, pacing, characters and plot. What works? What doesn’t? 


Writing a novella

The story idea that sparks the novella should contain enough interest to enable the story to cover up to 40,000 words. How can you ensure that your story will last for that many words?

Write about a strong character with something that they really want. How will they achieve that want? What obstacles are in their way?

Start with a believable conflict that needs resolving.

Limit characters and subplots – but keep them interesting and they should only be included if they add to the story.

Don’t take too long to reach the conflict or problem. The brevity of a novella means that the writer should get to the point as soon as possible. 

Start the story in the middle of the action. Flashbacks can help flesh out details later.

Create an outline can help pace the story.

Working out the main character arc will help define the end of the story. Sometimes the details may come as you are writing, however it is good to have an idea of where the story will end up.


Write the story. It is best to ignore the little editing voice in your head, at this point. Just write the story down. Some of the shorter novellas do not need dividing up into chapters, however some of the longer ones may need them.

When you have a first draft, put it away for a little time before looking at it. You may find that your brain continues working on the story and that’s fine.


Reread your story. If you are happy with it, then ask some trusted friends to read it for you and give you some feedback. Then you will have some other people’s points of view to help you edit it further.


Always bear in mind that if the comments do not tally with your view of the story, then you do not have to do anything about them. However, if several people mention the same thing, then it would be good to look at that issue carefully and consider how to improve it.


If you hope to write a novel one day and you have already written some short stories, why not try a novella?

Verified by MonsterInsights