Today I want to have a chat about novels and novellas.
I have talked about these two before, but today I want to talk about them a little differently, from a far more personal standpoint. One of my current WIP (work in progress) is The Man in Winter, it tells the story of Arthur, who lost his wife Molly when a break-in went wrong. After the man responsible is found and jailed everyone rebuilds their lives. But after moving into a retirement community, Art sees Molly again, and she’s got a lot to tell him about what happened that night and why justice still needs to be done. But who’s going to believe an elderly man with a diagnosis of dementia?
Originally, when this idea came to me, it came to me as a novella. I wrote the first draft over a few months and let it flow naturally, with only a loose plan of what I wanted to do. This style of writing is unlike me. I plan my stories to death before putting the first word to paper, but Art and his story walked into my head in perfect technicolour, requiring very little planning on my part. Then, as Art’s story wound to a close, the key thing I noticed about it was that it was short. Between 30k–40k words.
Regardless, after a few re-drafts and a lot of editing, I sent it out to readers and waited for feedback, which came back quickly (probably because it was so short lol). It was all helpful and (delightfully so) all positive. The story worked. Everyone felt for my boy Art and his Molly.
I sent the story to a professional editor and the feedback, while still reasonably positive, was critical of the length. Novellas are hard to sell, there is not as much of a market for them, and with a little work, this could be a great novel. The feedback was appreciated and I know it was true. The market for Novellas is not as prominent as the market for novels.
So, with that in mind, I turned Art’s short and rather brutal story into something longer. I turned it into a novel.
Doing so killed the story.
Killed it dead.
I knew it while I was writing it. The writing process was like pulling teeth, so different from before. But I pushed on, painful chapter after painful chapter. I introduced new characters, expanded Art’s world and gave him more to fight against (poor Art). I did everything that you are supposed to do, and I hated it. I tried so hard but all lengthening the story did was water down the original concept and fill the pages with… well, filler.
But I persevered as I figured I was probably being precious. I kept at it, through the rewrites and the subsequent editing, and after two years of work I had something I felt was well enough put together to send out to a small portion of my reading group.
Like last time, the feedback came back quickly and again the verdict was unanimous.
They hated it.
Thankfully, my readers are lovely people and didn’t put it so harshly. But they all had the same problem. They loved the concept, but the story had become watered down, boring, and it didn’t fit with the earlier version they had loved. It just wasn’t as good.
With that in mind, I put Art and Molly away and picked up another WIP. I figured clearing my head would help, as it often does. After two months working on something different, I came back to look at Art. I spent a week reading and re-reading the story, the feedback from my editor and the feedback from the reading group.
Then I came to a decision.
You cannot turn a circle into a square.
Art’s story is a novella, and I had to turn him back into a novella.
Now, not everything about the novel was bad, I liked parts of it, so I didn’t want to revert to the original novella completely. I wanted to keep elements from the novel, maybe replace bits of the original novella with these novel bits.
It took a long week with lots of papers, several versions of the story open at once across several monitors, but the hard work has paid off. I’ve managed to Frankenstein Art back into a novella. Sort of. He’s still got a lot of stitching needed (lol horror joke) but for the first time in years I am feeling positive about this story again and holy crap that feels amazing.
The point I wanted to make in this ramble is that yes novellas are not as easy to market as novels, there are disadvantages to telling stories through these means, and sometimes those disadvantages outweigh the story.
But not always.
Every story has its way of being told, single novels, series, audio story, short story, or novella they are all valid ways of storytelling and they all work for different stories.