Secret to Writing Novellas: A Bestseller’s Tips for Writing Short

Writing Novels That Sell with Adrienne deWolfe

If you’re writing for the ebook market, the ability to write short is a definite advantage:

  • Ebook readers prefer to download an entire series in one fell swoop. 
  • The shorter you write, the more books you can out-put.
  • More published books means more opportunities for profit. 
  • Your target readers are less likely to forget about your series between publication dates.

The bad news is that writing short requires you to master a slightly different set of fiction techniques than writing long.

Back in September, my ebook publisher asked me to write a 30,000-word novella for an anthology.  It would feature never-before-published works by bestselling Western Historical Romance authors.

I was flattered, thrilled, dancing on the table – you get the idea.  I typed, “Count me in,” and fired back the reply email.

About 20 seconds later, I officially freaked out. 

WHAT WAS I THINKING?  I can’t write short!  Just consult with my Bantam editor:   she told me to keep my books around 100,000 words.  I invariably turned in 120,000.

Ironically, I usually have a mental melt-down in mid-book because I don't think I have any ideas left.  For instance, in Texas Lover (Book 2, Wild Texas Nights Series,) I thought, “Uh-oh.  Don’t have enough story.  I know!  I’ll throw in a rival for the hero!”

I’m still not sure how one teensy-weensy secondary character, who had exactly three passages of dialogue in the entire story, added the equivalent of a NOVELLA to my manuscript (120 pages).  Texas Lover was a whopping 550 pages when I submitted it to my editor (150 pages over target.) I promptly received a lecture from Bantam about paper costs and contract stipulations.  (But in the end, the editorial committee didn’t cut any of the overage.  Bwa-ha-ha!  SCORE!)

Now a sane writer (translation: organized and methodical,) who recognizes her over-writing addiction, would have cogitated for a while BEFORE she decided how to start Chapter One of her Romance novella.  She would have written a chapter-by-chapter summary.  Or an outline.  Maybe even a synopsis.


Yeah.  Right.  Like I want to sit down and write the story BEFORE I write the story.  How boring is THAT to the creative mind?

So here’s how I handled my over-writing addiction:


I admitted I had a problem.  (Fessing up is the first step on the road to recovery – so they say.)


I sternly informed myself that I didn’t have the luxury to indulge in panic, much less over-writing.  (I really didn’t think the self-talk was going to help.  It never had in the past.  But hey, it was worth a shot.)


I figured out what I do best:  writing action scenes and dialogue in Romance novels.


Next, I unleashed myself to write action and dialogue, speeding through all the fun scenes that were screaming to be written.  That strategy took me through 121 pages (120 was my goal.)  Not bad!


I DID NOT write in chronological order.  (Which made me crazy at times.)  But I’ve learned that forcing myself to write a scene that refuses to be written is counter-productive.  So I jumped ahead, relying on my Muse to come up with some brilliant scene, later, to plug in the holes.


I read the manuscript from beginning to end, hunting for plot holes.  I didn’t find too many.  What I DID find was a lack of sexual tension.  (Oops!  Not good in a Romance.) Fortunately, my computer word-counter told me I had another 7,000 words to play with, if I absolutely needed them.


I revised all scenes to improve the sexual tension between the hero and heroine, and I threw in one more “Romance love  scene” to tie up loose ends.

I have to say, I think the story turned out pretty well!  I beat my deadline (by a mile,) I came in under my word limit (by several thousand words,) and ended up with a tightly-written novella that takes off like a bullet from line one. 

BTW:  The novella is set in Dodge City in 1879.  The plot features some fun historical figures, like the gambler and gunslinger, Doc Holliday, and the lawman, Wyatt Earp (who was merely a deputy at the time.) 

Best of all, the novella is a prequel to Seduced by an Angel and Devil in Texas (Books 3 and 4, respectively, in my Velvet Lies Series.)  I titled the novella, Shady Lady.

Now it’s your turn! Do you have tips to share for writing “short” or writing a novella?  Please share them in the comments section, below.

Romance Writing Contests: Click here to win $250!