I recently celebrated the release of In the Service of the King, the first of four dark paranormal romances in the Vampire Warrior Kings series of novellas. Each book in the series will tell the story of one of the world’s remaining vampire warrior kings, all tied together by the broader context of a war the vampires are fighting against evil immortals known as the Soul Eaters.
With so many fewers words and pages available to tell a compelling story, writing novellas is different from writing full-length novels. So I thought I’d break down the elements of a novella and offer some thoughts on how to make novellas work.
Focus on one main plot and conflict – in novellas, you don’t have time or space for multiple main plots and lots of minor subplots. Instead, focus on one main conflict, and make it something that can hook a reader and carry a story for 50, or 90, or 110 pages. In In the Service of the King, I focus entirely on the vampire king’s need to feed from a human Proffered. He doesn’t want to do it. He hates doing it. It represents everything he’s lost and fears. But if he doesn’t do it, he faces the loss of his own immortality and humanity, and his warriors won’t feed either. For 90 pages, that’s enough. Yes, there’s a broader context of war that raises the stakes vis a vis the consequences of his decision, but there’s no time to bring that war in-scene. So you’ve got to figure out what your main story is in a novella and tell it.
Include fewer characters – similar to focusing on one main plot, you should also keep your novella focused on fewer main characters. You should never write a character who isn’t well fleshed out, and in a novella, you just don’t have the time to create a large and compelling cast of characters. In ITSOTK, there are four characters, two main (Kael and Shayla) and two secondary (Kael’s second-in-command and best friend Liam and Shayla’s trainer, Simon). A few other characters are mentioned and in one scene have a few lines, but the main focus is kept narrow and tight, allowing me to go deep into those characters and (hopefully) allow the reader to get to know and care about them.
Limit your worldbuilding – In a novella, you need a believable, compelling world just as you do in a novel. Difference is, you can’t spend lots of time building and describing it. Which means, like your plot and characters, you have to keep your setting narrowly defined. The majority of ITSOTK takes place in three rooms of Kael’s ancestral castle. A broader setting (that is, Dunluce Castle itself, the Northern Irish seascape and countryside, etc.) are referenced, but I don’t try to make the reader spend a lot of time there. Similarly, the war with the Soul Eaters is mentioned and its consequences detailed, but this story isn’t primarily about that war, or informed by it, so it’s context, not part of the conflict. (It will be in book 2… *grins*)
Make every scene count – This is true in novels too, but probably even more important in novellas. There’s no time for scene setting, or for lots of backstory that explains things for the reader, or for scenes that are fun but don’t really advance the plot or character development. Every scene needs to build the tension, the conflict, the readers’ knowledge and love of the characters. Because you don’t get nearly as many scenes to work with.
Make a powerful emotional impact – Again, this is something you want to do in a novel, too. But I want to propose that it’s especially important in a novella to hook the reader emotionally and never let them go because the reading experience is over so much faster for the reader. If they at all feel that the novella fell flat emotionally, it will be an even less satisfying reading experience on top of how fast it was to read. In ITSOTK, I attempted to hook the reader emotionally by putting them in the shoes of my heroine as she experienced bloodlust and blood drinking for the very first time. And that scene might be the most erotic non-sex scene I’ve ever written…
So, if you’re an author, what other advice for writing novellas can you add to this? And, if you’re a reader, what’s a novella you felt was particularly successful and enjoyable (and maybe say why, too?)?
Thanks for reading!
About In the Service of the King
Book 1 in the Vampire Warrior Kings Series
Harlequin Nocturne Cravings
Kael, Warrior King of the Vampires, loathes the Night of the Proffering. He needs the blood of either his mate or a human virgin to maintain his strength, but hasn’t enjoyed the ritual since he lost his mate centuries ago. Kael doesn’t want a new companion, yet his resolve is tested when he lays eyes on his new offering, Shayla McKinnon. He is drawn to Shayla’s beauty and poise…and the submission she offers. She is eager to give him anything he wishes, including her innocence, to please him. Will Kael give in to their overwhelming desire–even if it means risking Shayla’s life?