Tips on Writing a Novella

Today’s guest post is written by one of our clients, Lynn A. Coleman (www.lynncoleman.com). She is the founder of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), as well as the author of more than 50 novels and novellas. She lives with her husband of 45 years, who is the lead pastor of a church.


Novellas are fast paced, short novels that run anywhere from 20k to 30k words, depending on the publisher’s needs. If you self-publish, you choose the size. Just remember, most folks like to read a novella in one sitting.

With that in mind, I focus on the pace of the story, how to keep the reader turning the page—not wanting to put it down before they do whatever it is they have to do. One of my favorite comments from a reader is, “You did it again, and kept me up last night.” I love that. It says to me that the reader was totally engaged. Of course, some folks might not care for your style of writing; they could take it or leave it. You can’t please everyone.

First Tip

Do your research. Know your character, their occupation, their surroundings, and, most importantly, know the spiritual growth as well as the everyday growth your character will achieve throughout the novella.

Remember: Limited space means you can’t always resolve all of your character’s issues in the course of the story. But at least you can put them on the road to recovery, healing, or strengthening of their character. A character’s shortcomings provide a great canvas for painting tension and conflict in a story, and this includes a novella.

After you’ve done your research, your next bit is planning or plotting your story. For me, I’m a seat-of-the-pants planner. I think best while working on my story. My characters speak to me as I write. For example, I was recently working on a story where the character’s main issue was letting go and letting God help resolve life situations. She is a take-charge, oldest-child personality. As I wrote the story, more and more situations came up in her life where she needed to step back, breathe, and seek the Lord’s guidance. I knew this about her before I wrote the first word, but I didn’t know all the aspects her growth development would take until I wrote the scenes out. Situations would come to mind in the writing process that would point out her need and help her grow.

Second Tip

Timing and pace. Keep your story moving. Keep the pace quick, but don’t forget to take a few spots to slow down and let your reader catch up to you and your character. Generally speaking, you slow the pace down a bit just as you’re about to crank the story up another notch as you bring your reader on this journey with your character.

Stephen King wrote: “Forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation.’” He wasn’t saying he didn’t plot. Rather, of key importance was the situation. Does it move quickly and move your story forward? If not, reduce it or remove it. Often times you can remove the scene and write a far better situation that advances your character further toward the climax of your story.

Third Tip

When writing romance, give readers a happy ending. They are reading romance for that purpose. They want the couple to overcome and get together. And let’s face it—if you’re writing a romance, you want that too. Not all novellas need to end with a wedding scene, but your characters do need to be in the place of commitment to each other and the Lord.

Lastly, enjoy the journey! Allow yourself to grow as your characters grow. Grow in your writing ability, grow in your faith, and grow in your own personal character.


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