What do Animal Farm, The Old Man and the Sea, A Christmas Carol, The Little Prince, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Great Gatsby have in common? All of these famous books are novellas. But despite their success, the fact is that for a long time—most of my sixty-year writing career, the received wisdom was that no decent publisher would touch a novella with a ten-foot pole, to coin a phrase.
Well not anymore!
Today novellas are the hottest thing on the market—both as e-books and in print. So, naturally you ask the questions How? and Why?
How do you write a novella? Well, first of all, you keep it short. Standards vary but a length of between 20 000 and 40 000 is considered appropriate. Secondly, you concentrate in two senses of the word.
When I wrote Terminal Grill, I concentrated on the two main characters and their doomed affair. There were no subplots. There were a number of minor characters, but they appeared only to further the plot. There was only one major minor character who was absolutely essential as a “normal” foil against the strange, noir elements of the story. The setting, too, was very limited. Mostly a bar and a one-room basement apartment. And the weather was mentioned only insofar as it either mirrored or contrasted with the psychological state of the heroine. There was only one real plot element and its unfolding and eventual resolution was the single thing the reader was called upon to experience.
Why write a novella? Terminal Grill has received the most positive feedback I’ve ever gotten for a book. People say they’ve read it in one sitting. That’s because of the use of concentration in the second sense. Readers can afford to give themselves totally to the book because everything is distilled. No extra ideas. No extra descriptions. Not even extra reflections on the meaning of the story and of life by the narrator. No extra words.
When people tell me how much they “loved” Terminal Grill, I say, “That’s because it’s so short.” But that’s only half a joke. In these rushed times, a short, intense reading experience is just what people need.