Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tips on Writing Novellas by Melissa Jagears

I'm thrilled to welcome award-winning novelist and novella-writer Melissa Jagears to the blog today! She has some fantastic tips on writing novellas. Here's Melissa:
          I have a confession to make; I’m not much of a novella reader. Or didn’t used to be anyway. I would’ve joined the chorus of readers who say they don’t like novellas because they’re too short and you feel cheated out of time with the characters.....even though I might only have ever read one novella in my life.... (and a handful of short stories in English classes).
http://www.amazon.com/Home-Christmas-Sweetest-Inspirational-Collection-ebook/dp/B0064DQTJS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432750947&sr=8-1&keywords=a+home+for+christmas+connealy          So, when I was asked to write a novella, I read some to see how they were done . . . and you know what? There were some pretty good ones out there! I was impressed with one by Mary Connealy called The Sweetest Gift in the A Home for Christmas Collection. It was as good as any novel I’d read! (Don’t let the cover fool you.) And then the second one in that collection by Hatcher was quite a good read too.
          But then, there were quite a few duds. Most of them seemed to be trying to pack in too much and therefore fell flat and felt shallow. It seemed that there was no middle ground with novellas. They were either good or they weren’t.
          It seems that everyone who complains about novellas, complains that just as soon as they get to know the characters, the story ends. So these haters of novellas prefer depth of character over plot. And how much incredibly unique plot can you pack into less than a hundred pages anyway? So....

1. Give your Characters One Problem.
          Decide on one character problem for both of the characters to overcome, but in different ways. Decide what the virtue is and give the hero and the heroine its vice, but from the opposite perspective.
          So if compassion is the virtue you want your characters to achieve, give the hero too much compassion so he gets walked all over by people, then give the heroine too little compassion, so she’s either selfish or has difficulty feeling compassion.
          Or if you want your characters to adopt a child, give the heroine little faith that she could successfully help the lonely child and give the hero so much faith that God will take care of the orphan that the hero doesn’t see that God plans for him to be His way of caring for the child.

2. Give the Story One Twist.
          Now, just because you can’t pack in a lot of plot doesn’t mean you should write the predictable. Before you start writing, think of one story plot point you can turn on its head. The rest of the plot should probably be pretty comfortable because you don’t have a lot of room to take readers for a joy ride on the plot roller coaster. But rather, your story should be more like that amusement park ride where you stand in a barrel and it spins you against the wall by centrifugal force. Pretty boring right? Just spin and spin, but then the floor drops out from under you, yet you’re still stuck to the wall five feet above the floor’s new position. It only lasts for a minute or two, but it’s still fun because it’s not something that has ever happened to you before!
          So think through how the plot ought to go to get the hero and heroine to achieve their character arc goals, and then near the two thirds part of the story, look at the plot points and ask what if questions. Figure out if you could do the opposite, find a wrench to throw in it, bring something or someone crazy into the picture, make your characters do something unpredictable. Dig around for a plot twist where your own mind’s floor drops down and surprises you with a few minutes of fun you’ve never read before.

3. Keep your Developed Characters to a Minimum. 
          My magic number seems to be eight. Two principals and a mix of six people who will either help or hinder that require a bit of character development because they affect your character’s plot/arc. But be careful not to give them any real subplots that require tying up strings. Only give them roles that affect your main plot and characters. If you plan to use them in another story, you can hint at something unresolved that will make readers curious, but don’t develop it to the point your reader is left unsatisfied if you don’t deal with the other character’s story. You don’t have time for that.

4. The Ending Still has to Satisfy.
          Even if your main story resolves, you need to make sure your readers will be satisfied with a firm happily ever after even if you plan to use your characters in another story to show their happy ending. Readers won’t give you a pass for not satisfying them in the end just because it’s short.
          I’m not sure I satisfied my readers well enough with my first novella. Of course the main story resolved, you know the boy got the girl, but I had some readers feel like I didn’t conclude it; they wanted to know if the characters they loved actually turned out all right without having to pick up the next book. So don’t leave them on the high of story resolution. Give them a cool down with a couple of pages that gives them a sigh of contentment.

5. Don’t Fight your Natural Writing Style.
          You’re not going to magically become something else because you’re writing short. So take into account your writing habits, quirks, strengths and weaknesses and plan around them.
          For instance, what is your average chapter or scene length? Don’t think that you’re going to change that flow just because the book will be shorter—or longer for that matter. So divide the novella word count, by your average chapter/scene word count and figure out where to have the plot structure coincide with that many chapters before diving in.

So that’s what I’ve done to write my (so far) three novellas. And since the first one won the Carol Award for 2014, I hope something I said will be helpful for others contemplating writing novellas!


My current novella is out this month in The Convenient Brides Collection entitled Blinded by Love, and it’s actually about a secondary character in my award winning novella Love by the Letter which you can read for FREE if you haven’t already!



Author Bio
Much to her introverted self’s delight, Melissa Jagears hardly needs to leave her home to be an elementary homeschool teacher, day-care provider, church financial secretary, and historical romance novelist. She doesn’t have to leave her house to be a housekeeper either, but she’s doubtful she meets the minimum qualifications to accuse herself of being one in her official bio. Her passion is to help Christian believers mature in their faith and judge rightly. Find her online at www.melissajagears.com, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads, or write her at PO Box 191, Dearing, KS 67340.

Check out Melissa's Page on Amazon.com!

Comment Fodder

For Readers:
Do you read many novellas?
What's your favorite thing about them?
Have you ever read a novella and wished you could tell the author how it could be better?
Do you have any novella writing tips from a reader's perspective?

For writers:
Have you ever thought about writing a novella?
What is holding you back?
Have you already written a novella?
What was your favorite thing about the process?


  1. Hi Melissa! I sprinkle novella reading in with my other reading. The novellas I enjoy are what I think of as 'continuing series' -- the locale is the same place, and major characters from one novella pop up as supporting characters in another novella (as you've done with "Blinded by Love"). Thanks for mentioning plot twists. Those are my favorite part of any story :-)

    Congrats on the Carol Award!

    Nancy C

  2. Hi, Nancy! I'm always up for a novella between really long books to break up the pace. You are so right about building a novella series around the same locale. The longer you spend with the secondary characters, the more they will have developed when they get their own book.

  3. Chill N, There is a bit of easiness that comes with using a familiar setting both for author and reader. Always a good choice.

  4. My next novella with Bethany is me Witemeyer, Connealy and Jennings doing exactly this, writing a novella based on some characters in our newest series. Should be fun.

  5. Melissa!!! Great tips. Okay why doesn't this show the date? Natalie? We the date.

    I love novellas and I love Melissa Jagears. So I love Melissa Jagears novellas!

  6. So glad you mentioned the date, Tina! Hopefully it's fixed now. I know, right? Melissa and her novellas are the greatest!

  7. It may not show the date, but the comments have a time stamp! 3:47 am Tina? You and me need to have middle of the night word count competitions. :)

  8. This was a super timely post for me as I'm starting my first novella. I haven't read many of them, but I find that with four kids in sports, the full-length novels just aren't getting done. Short and sweet is best for me right now! Thanks for sharing your strategy, Melissa!

  9. Good luck with your first novella, Jessica. It is indeed hard to write with kids!


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