Tips on Writing a Novella

Today’s guest post is written by one of our clients, Lynn A. Coleman ( 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.


20 Responses to Tips on Writing a Novella

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 16, 2019 at 6:51 am #

    Great post, Lynn! For some reason SF lends itself beautifully to novellas – some of Arthur C. Clarke’s best work was of this form.

    Short fiction’s like a movie serial,
    that staple of the silver screen.
    So long as you’ve got good material
    you can have the next Perils of Pauline.
    Write ’em snappy, with a punch
    and hot action that synapses fuse,
    keep readers reading well through lunch
    on a literary whitewater cruise.
    Make repartee bright and witty
    with a whiff of heroic romance
    that’ll appeal to the Walter Mitty
    in your growing tribe of fans.
    Novellas are like some great hors d’oeuvres
    that keep the reader wanting more.

  2. Avatar
    Larry Gildersleeve May 16, 2019 at 7:19 am #

    Excellent guidance as I begin writing my first novella after self-publishing two 65,000+ novels. I’m a member of the ACFW.

  3. Avatar
    rose mccauley May 16, 2019 at 7:35 am #

    Thanks for the great advice, Lynn!

  4. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson May 16, 2019 at 7:51 am #

    What a great and informative message! Thank you.

    • Avatar
      Lynn Coleman May 16, 2019 at 8:46 pm #

      Thanks, Melissa. I’m glad you found it helpful.

  5. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca May 16, 2019 at 8:05 am #

    Thank you for the advice on novellas, Lynn.

    Thank you even more for having founded the ACFW. My husband and I are both new authors and we have benefitted greatly from our memberships in the ACFW. It’s wonderful to “meet” you through this blog!

    • Avatar
      Lynn Coleman May 16, 2019 at 8:47 pm #

      Nice to meet you, Kay. I’m honored that the Lord used me to help create ACFW. God Bless.

  6. Avatar
    Regina Merrick May 16, 2019 at 8:13 am #

    This COULD NOT have come at a better time! I’m 5,000 words in on a novella (my first after 3 novels) for an anthology for my publisher, and I’m writing in first-person for the first time! It’s hard to leave out that second POV when you’re used to being able to switch to the other when you run out of steam on the one! LOL! Thanks for the tips – I think I’ll save THIS one to my desktop for easy access! 😉

    • Avatar
      Lynn Coleman May 16, 2019 at 8:49 pm #

      You’re welcome, Regina. First person is quite a different voice. I haven’t been happy with anything I’ve written in first person. You have my prayers for a successful novella.

  7. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks May 16, 2019 at 8:17 am #

    I love this! Thank you.

  8. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 16, 2019 at 1:53 pm #

    Lynn, thank you so much for sharing. Thank you also for starting ACFW- I have been a member for several years and love it!

    It sounds like you are encouraging a tension-release-tension-release formatting.

    • Avatar
      Lynn Coleman May 16, 2019 at 8:53 pm #

      You’re welcome, Sheri and yes with the climax building towards the end. Sort of like labor pains, they build just before your joy is complete with the new life God has blessed you with.

  9. Avatar
    Judith Robl May 16, 2019 at 8:11 pm #

    Oh, how I wish I had the benefit of this information a couple of years ago. This one is being printed and going into my reference notebook. Thank you so very much, Lynn, for this post.

    • Avatar
      Lynn Coleman May 16, 2019 at 8:54 pm #

      You’re welcome, Judith. Apply it to the next novella. We all continue to learn on our writing journeys.

  10. Avatar
    Ashley Schaller May 20, 2019 at 3:42 pm #

    Fabulous tips!

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