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Writing the Romance Novella

A long, long time ago (I can still remember) I wrote about the joy of writing novellas. I’ve done a lot more novella writing since then, and now seems like a good time to share a few tips specific to the romance novella (it’s a tricksy beast!).

First, ask yourself why you’re writing a novella. I like them because they’re short and relatively easy to plot (although they’re incredibly challenging in their own compact way), but they’re not for everyone to read or write. They can easily become episodic or unsatisfying. Romance creates specific concerns and you might need more than 30,000 words to spin out a fulfilling relationship. If you’re up to the challenge, know that not all bloggers review novellas, and the short format knocks you out of some types of promo, particularly assuming you’re doing an e-novella. No Goodreads giveaways for you!

Stand-alone novellas are a bit different from the kind of novellas you publish between long works, or use to tell a different POV in an old story. Your characters and settings need to be just as deep as they’d be in a category length work, but you have a fraction of the page space to get the details out. When your novella is part of a pre-established world, you can save yourself some work, but when it’s stand alone, you have to jam everything into place and get your characters together.

I have a sadistic streak, so clearly I write the stand-alone kind of novellas—the good news is that it gets easier as the series goes along. Mind you, I’m not the paragon of perfection here. I wrote the Manhattan Ten Out of Order because I had a vague idea of my series instead of a concrete plan. Learn from my mistake: if your novella is going to turn into a series, KNOW THAT AHEAD OF TIME. Even if you drop the story after one volume, you’ll know you started at the right place, and if it takes off, you’ll save yourself so much backtracking.

When you’re ready to hit the keyboard, keep the following in mind:

1. Get your hero and heroine together as soon as possible. A standard novella should range about 25,000-35,000 words, and if you want to avoid getting panned for instalove, you need to get the romance simmering.

2. Trim the minor characters. These guys and gals are necessary for extending your romance series, but you can’t let them clog up the real business. Find the balance between making them realistic and losing your mind juggling subplots that won’t fit.

3. The main conflict MUST be manageable. At this length, the romance is a big part of the story conflict, but it shouldn’t be the only thing going on. Whatever else is happening, make sure it’s fully resolved without going all deus ex machina at the end.

4. Pick your POV carefully. I like reading (and writing) the perspectives of both parties in a relationship, but doing this halves your pages per person. It gets the reader into both characters’ heads, but you need to plan the plot that much more carefully to to avoid head-swappy headaches. Writing only one POV eliminates the problem, but doesn’t take you as deep into the relationship.

5. Have fun! This shouldn’t be a multi-year slog that makes you feel like writing an epic fantasy. If you can write 1k per day, you can be done in a month. Try something new and enjoy the process. If you struggle with 1-5 (I still do), at least you’re only revising 30k!