Novellas: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This novella collection now available
on Amazon.

post by Michelle Griep

Most savvy readers know what a novella is, and Novel Rocket readers are not only savvy but good looking. Still, just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a great definition by Ian McEwan:

“Novellas are between twenty and forty thousand words, long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness and be kept there, short enough to be read in a sitting or two, and for the whole structure to be held in mind at first encounter.”
Like seafood, some readers love novellas. Others not so much. Whatever your feelings, a few facts remain . . .


  • The story can be read in one sitting, so your reader will connect strongly to the main characters. This means the characters and story will live on in their memory. And that, my friends, makes for a ready market for your next book.
  • Readers using e-book devices love short stories. Not many download War and Peace or Atlas Shrugged simply because of the massive size of the read.
  • A novella is a great way for a newbie writer to get his foot in the publishing door. 
  • When a potential buyer picks up a novella collection, their eyes automatically scan to find a big name. Most often if they don’t see one they know, they’ll put the book down. If you’re in a collection with newbie authors or those who don’t have a huge following, sales numbers can be a struggle. 
  • The author must balance on a thin line between keeping the action moving and character development. There’s not much time for either.
  • Every word counts. If the writing isn’t tight, the story melts into a muddy puddle of words no one cares about.
  • As much honor as it may be, the first story in the collection bears the most pressure. If the opening tale isn’t stellar, that can ruin the chances for a sale.
  • Times are tough in the publishing industry. New contracts are hard to come by, regardless if it’s for a full-length novel or short stories.
Despite all this, I recently gave novella writing a whirl. When I mapped out my story, the biggest challenge was fitting all I wanted to say in a mere 10 chapters. Cramming a full story into a short format takes a mighty specialized shoehorn — namely, the 3 Act Structure.

Basically this is a quick meet and greet between reader and main characters, where the conflict is made clear.
The turning point, the incident that takes the characters from where they are and hurtles them into the issue at hand.
A roadblock is thrown up between what the characters want and how they’ll get there.
After letting your characters experience a bit of success a devastating setback comes along.
The big confrontation. The climax. The point where the characters lose it all.

The characters make life-changing decisions to resolve the big confrontation.
Tie up all the lose ends.
Yeah, it’s kind of a formula but with only 20,000 words you can’t play around. If you want to see this 3 act structure in story format, check out my novella THE DOCTOR’S WOMAN in upcoming Courageous Brides collection. Here’s a blurb . . .

EMMALINE LARSON is no stranger to loss. Living in a land as wild as the natives who roam it, she’s lost her father, her betrothed, and when DR. JAMES CLARK crashes into her world, she loses the last thing left to her — her heart.

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.