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Writer’s Craft #28 – Going Long (Novella Writer)

July 11, 2011

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus. She is a member of SFWA, RWA, and Broad Universe. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fantasy Magazine, among others. Her website can be found at

Author J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen Cheny, Author

In the last year, I’ve had three novellas published ranging in length from 15,000 to 38,000 words. It’s rare for anyone who isn’t a ‘big name author’ to be paid a large amount for a story of this length. I certainly didn’t get 5 cents a word for any of them. So why do it at all? Why write a novella, when you can write a handful of short stories that might sell at much better rates, and be far more marketable?

Well, the truth is that some stories simply demand certain lengths. Before I even began writing “Iron Shoes”, I knew it would be a novella. It was to be a historical/fantasy/romance. That alone told me I was going to go long. In order to cover all the things I wanted — the character development, the historical details, and the ‘rules’ of my fantasy world — and set up the romance’s pacing properly, I would need a lot of words.

The novelette and the novella give the writer more words to make their introductions. It gives us space to do more ‘worldbuilding’, and time to ‘get to know’ our characters before they’re cast into peril. Because I tend to start with the characters rather than the plot, writing longer is more natural for me.

As a writer, what length is natural for you? Do you challenge yourself to write at lengths you haven’t mastered? (Flash still terrifies me!) And as a reader, what length do you like best?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 8:41 am

    Hi Ms. Cheny. Thanks for sharing with us. Did you start writing the longer stories or start with shorts and expand? I’m a long writer by nature so many of my short stories beg to be more. I’m starting to look at the novella as an option, but I really don’t feel like I know it yet…

    • July 11, 2011 9:06 am

      Generally, I outline before I write, so I have a good idea of length before I start writing. I can look at the complexity of the story, and that gives me an idea how may words it would take to cover that.

      I’ve gotten the ‘this needs to be longer’ critique often enough that I know what you’re talking about. A lot of us are novelists at heart. ;o) Basically I suppose you need to go with the length that the story demands.

      I will say that there are more markets for novellas now, so there’s a better shot at publications for that length these days.

  2. July 11, 2011 10:13 am

    I found this very helpful, thanks!

  3. July 11, 2011 12:08 pm

    Both as a reader and a writer, I prefer novel length. I’m very fussy about reading short-stories, and I don’t much enjoy writing them. Novella are also so-so for me.

    • July 11, 2011 4:43 pm

      Novels get a great deal more time to develop their characters and do their worldbuilding, so it’s not unusual to have a preference for them ;o)

  4. July 11, 2011 12:10 pm

    Interesting question. Once I wrote a little short story in my journal. That has turned into a fantasy trilogy! But I also have written a flash vampire story. I loved it but it didn’t want to get any bigger. It’s a mystery to me. Seems like the stories know what length they are supposed to be.

    • July 11, 2011 12:42 pm

      I agree. There are times that stories twist their way out of your hands and demand to be something else. Most of mine stick with their outlines, but sometimes they simply go beserk, creating additional characters and spawning all new sorts of trouble…

      And if that happens, usually I go with it ;o)

      • July 11, 2011 2:08 pm

        So far, it’s been more the latter for me. Outlining? Hmmmm… maybe I should try that sometime! 🙂

  5. Lynda Williams permalink
    July 11, 2011 5:47 pm

    The Okal Rel legacies series features novellas as well as anthologies of stories set in my fictional universe. I think one of the reasons the novella length works, here, is that a lot of the world building is already established by the 10-novel series. The novellas can get right into the character stuff, giving quite a bit of space for that and plot.

    • July 12, 2011 10:02 am

      That’s one reason that you see it in Romance so often, I think. There’s not as much wolrdbuilding required, but you can almost cram a novel’s worth of plot into it….

  6. carpelibris permalink
    July 11, 2011 5:52 pm

    I suspect my natural length is Flash, probably because my first sales were to a market with a 600-word maximum. I seldom go over 5,000, and when I do the story usually morphs into a novel. I’m not sure if it’s because I have trouble holding larger stories in my head, or what.

    • July 12, 2011 10:03 am

      You excell at writing short, though. It may simply be a different talent (like they say about elementary teachers and secondary teachers).

  7. Roxanne Bland permalink
    July 11, 2011 6:35 pm

    Novels are natural with me, I think. Short stories tend to be difficult, though I love reading them. I’m not an outline writer–maybe I should become one. Make things easier, maybe.

    • July 12, 2011 10:05 am

      My understanding after talking with a gazillion other writers is that for some, outlines just aren’t needed. My problem is that if I don’t outline, I might go off on a tangent somewhere….and end up with two plots, or something like that. So that’s why I tend to do them. Other folk just don’t have that worry.

  8. July 11, 2011 11:56 pm

    My preferred length is the novella.

  9. July 12, 2011 11:31 am

    Flash fiction terrifies me too. My average length is 85000words for (fantasy, usually much longer!) novels, otherwise I go to novella/novelette length. Short stories are fun, but I prefer longer ones. Mostly, I don’t want to stick to any “preferred” wordcount – the story needs that amount of words, no more no less, know what I mean? 😉


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