The Art of the Novella

The Novella: The Rise of a Shorter Form

Look. We’re all busy. We might only get a half hour on rainy weekends to read. Maybe we read for five minutes before konking out in our cozy beds during the long, cold winter. If you’re like me, you need to dedicate time to reading before other aspects of life consume that time like the cookie monster smashing snickerdoodles with his giant, throatless maw.

Novellas have been around for ages, but recent years have seen them THRIVE. This success ranges from Tor.com‘s science fiction series to James Patterson’s Bookshots. Amazon even has a special place for short novellas and long novelettes. People LOVE these things, and they’ve been doing some really fantastic things over the past few years. So, why do people like them?

Well, they’re short.

That’s good, right? I mean, you can power through one of these books in a single sitting if you’re interested. A single weekend if you’re taking your time. You can get all that intensity, all that intrigue, and all that emotion in one little package, and you don’t have to sacrifice anything.

What?

OK. Sometimes there are sacrifices, but NOT ALWAYS. A good novella has the depth and immersiveness of a novel written with the stark efficiency of a short story. Its transitions are tight, and its movement is swift, but it doesn’t LOSE anything. They hit the ground running, put on a burst of speed, and then crash through the finish line like a man on fire. The good ones–the really good ones–leave a reader wanting more.

Which is great, because novellas lend themselves well to series, more so, I would argue, than novels.

A novella can be written QUICKLY. Revision requirements (for me, anyway) grow exponentially with story length. Keeping it all in my head at once becomes harder and harder the longer the piece. Novellas are the sweet spot. With turnaround this fast, even traditional publishing can produce a few a year.

Self-publishers can produce polished, tight novellas way faster.

That means you don’t need to (side eye certain fantasy writers) wait years between books. The next one, if it isn’t out already, is probably out in a few months. The characters you love will hit another adventure at full speed, tumble through the brick wall of adversity, and land like a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky.

Recent Novellas I Know You Will Love

Hey I know by now you’re probably looking to read some novellas. Here are a few to get you started.

This is How You Lose the Time War (affiliate link)

I really can’t have a discussion about novellas and ignore last year’s incredible hit This is How You Lose the Time War. Not only is this an incredible story of love found on the battlefield throughout time, but it’s a perfect example of the novella form. It has the feel of a story that is the PERFECT length. Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar do some cool epistolary storytelling here, but I DARE say the back-and-forth letter writing would be too much for a novel length. Just exactly when the pattern becomes tiresome, it changes. Moves forward. The pace is perfect for a novella. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

And yet, the novella’s treatment of the complex time travel storyline rewards the reader with incredible depth. I rarely reread books, but I reread this one and was GREATLY REWARDED. This book is definitely worth a read, reread, and, if you have some time on a rainy afternoon, a re-reread.

All Systems Red (Murderbot)(affiliate link)

The other book I can’t help but mention is All Systems Red, the first of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. The whole four book series (and accompanying novel) are fantastic and show off what kind of character depth an author can get in a novella without sacrificing action, worldbuilding, or really anything at all.

Plus, they’re all funny as hell.

The self-described Murderbot freed themself from their governor module ages ago, but instead of going on a murderous rampage, decided to watch fluff media and continue to do the job of guarding stupid humans. What follows is funny, touching, and more than a little intense. Every book adds depth to this world and layers of complexity to the fantastic character that is Murderbot.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo(affiliate link)

P. Djèlí Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo and the later The Haunting of Tram Car 015 bring some truly excellent worldbuilding to a steampunk Egypt rife with magic and technology. They’re a great example of stories that are complete, satisfying and really clever packaged in the novella form. All of this wrapping up a cool murder mystery. Definitely worth a read.

The Sea Dreams it is the Sky(affiliate link)

John Hornor Jacobs’s The Sea Dreams it is the Sky is found in A Lush and Seething Hell is a descent into cosmic horror like none I’ve ever read. It’s powerful, intense, and the imagery in it is so intense it’ll leave your hands shaking as you try to put the book down. It’s a great example of how emotionally powerful a novella can be.

Of a Strange World Made

My own foray into the novella form, Of a Strange World Made, comes out December 7th, 2020 in kindle and paperback. It’s the very first of the Colony of Edge series, and if plans work out you’ll be able to get each of the five books in six week intervals.

As I write the final books in this series, I’m discovering how much I really love the novella length. It’s surprising and intense. I never feel like I’m constrained by how short it is, but I also never feel like I’m stretching to meet a word count. It’s a comfortable length of story for me to write, a thrill to revise, and so very exciting to me every time one of these goes out the door.

I hope you’re as excited to read it.

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Of a Strange World Made

Scientist Ash Morgan doesn’t mind breaking rules, but this is ridiculous.

The colony of Edge is a bastion on the frontier of space and science, governed only by laws designed to bring humanity to the stars. Successful laws. Outdated laws, if Ash has anything to say about it.

But when a child is born strange, Ash must decide which of the colony’s rules must be followed, which ones can be broken, and which ones will inevitably lead to Edge’s ultimate destruction.

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