Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is This a Novel?

Last time I spoke about the excitement of getting started on the next bright idea.  But, how can you be so sure that idea is a novel?

First, what is the difference between a novel, a novella and a short story.  Most obviously, it's the word count.  A novel is around 75-110k (thousand words).  A novella is around 45k and a short story is around 3-8k.  Of course there are exceptions and different sub-genres have their target length.  The whole length thing is quite a big debate and stress point for a bunch of writers.  But, whatever, generally, this is what "they" are looking for.

So, is word count all that separates a short story from a full-length novel? 


But, it's not just any words, it's having good words.  You can't just type "the" 80,000 times and claim you turned a 3,000 word short story into a 83,000 word novel.  You can't add fluff.  You can't send your character on some random tangent for a few ten thousand words.  You've got to fully use and leverage each of those words to be part of a compelling story.

Easier said than done.

So, what CAN you do if your novel is too short?
Add a subplot.
Do your other characters have their own challenges that complement your main plot?  Maybe your character is dealing with a miscarriage.  Possibly her sister could be dealing with a child that got diagnosed with a learning disability.  This compliments the issues that your character is going through and can add an extra level of drama.  "Why are you so upset that your kid has Autistm?  Mine is dead!" 

Maybe it's not the end
I know that my next great idea will be in novel form.  But I'm not sure if it's long enough.  If it's not then, I'll just have my current end goal be an intermediary goal.  Worst case, I've got a happy middle with a nice act 1 or act 2 resolution and can introduce new and exciting complications.  So, ask yourself...what next?  But, the pacing does dictate that the "what next" be even bigger, more important and more difficult than the first part.  The reader has to want to keep reading.

Add plot layers
We all have tons of stuff going on in our lives.  So should our characters.  A romance is always a fun option for a plot layer.  In my WiP, my character is a widow who is still working through the loss of her husband so that isn't a good plot layer for me.  But, it might be a good subplot.  Maybe her son has a girlfriend.

Add complications
Your character has a goal, but what are some set backs he or she can face.  You can add some to the main plot or to one of the sub-plots.  Just make sure that your main plot stays main.  The complication must be directly impacting the main plot or one of the important sub-plots.

Admit that maybe its not a novel
Writing a novella or a short story might not be as marketable in today's market, but it's still something.  Enjoy what you've written and what you've achieved.  This might be the hardest of all my suggestions.  Each piece of work is special and took a ton of your creativity and energy.  Don't try to make it something that it is not.

5 tidbits:

Charles Gramlich said...

I tell you, I really like the novella length for a lot of things, both as a writer and a reader. It's just about right for all kinds of adventure and horror stories. I just read King's Christine, a full length novel that had way too much padding. It would have been so much better as a novella.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Novel length seems to have always been a big topic of debate, and one I've struggled with coming to terms with in many ways. A novella, however, is more than just word count, in my opinion. I like how Wikipedia sums it up:

A novella generally features fewer conflicts than a novel, yet more complicated ones than a short story. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. They have endings that are located at the brink of change. Unlike novels, they are not divided into chapters, and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as the short story, although white space is often used to divide the sections. They maintain, therefore, a single effect.

BONDED, my collection of three novellas, is coming out in November. I adored writing those three books and working with the novella form. I think it's one of my favorites, especially for fairy tale and fantasy writing.

Romance Book Haven said...

Another way is to dig deeper in the emotions and get more or flesh out the characters and add sub plots.

But Novella length is always good for readers.


strugglingwriter said...

My current novel is going to wind up at 40,000 to 50,000 words after the first draft. I'm not too worried about it right now. It is to be a YA novel, and I figure it won't be that difficult to add stuff once I really get a feel for the story.


Lauren said...

@charles - I agree, the novella length can be really nice. I've heard the word "cozy" being thrown around for books that I'd consider novellas. I'm not sure on the official difference, but calling something a "Horror Cozy" doesn't sound as good as a "Horror Novella" :)

@michelle - that's a great way to say it. and i agree that the novella length can be a great format for fairy tales.

@romance - i agree, both can be ways to make the story longer.

@strugglingwriter - the word counts for YA novels is definitely lower than for adult novels.

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