First off, it’s been a while! I’ve been absent from my blog to focus on other aspects of my personal life, including some fun new diagnoses (sarcasm) alongside starting a full time job. I am currently working on 2 new books though!
Anyway, this post isn’t about that. This post is something I’ve been thinking about for a while since I first published ‘Immunity’, my bestselling dystopian novella. If you didn’t know, it is in fact my very first published book, which I began writing at 14 years old and published at 16. It’s a little over 100 pages, an easy-to-read novella. However, novellas aren’t hugely popular or relevant anymore. Despite some literature classics being novellas or novelettes (looking at you, Charles Dickens!) these days it seems that only 300+ page books count as actual books. The thicker the better, the wordier the better, essentially. Which is ironic, because many issues people point out in shorter books can be seen in a worse capacity in bigger books! So, what’s going on here?
Despite that saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’, we are all guilty of doing so at some point. Whether that’s literally picking a book because of a pretty cover (am guilty there) or deciding against a book because it looks too small or too short, everyone who reads has done it at some point. The general consensus seems to be that readers are worried that shorter books will have issues with pacing, which therefore affects almost every other aspect; the plot, the characters, and the quality of the writing itself. Admittedly, these are all very subjective things. Fast pacing can be enjoyable if done correctly, but some readers simply don’t like fast pacing to begin with, which is understandable. The issue is when a blanket statement or thought like this is applied to every smaller book.
Short books such as novellas will typically have a simpler plot. To make up for the fact that there is less time and space to develop an intricate, detailed plot, writers have to cut the fat off so to speak and simplify the plot. Sometimes this even includes having less characters. A prime example would be my own novella, ‘Immunity’. The plot and story line are very simple and basic. This was done on purpose so that I had more space to flesh out and develop the two protagonists (the only characters in the story, mind you) and explore their relationship. And despite my young age, it seems that readers agree this was done well! All reviews of the novella say that the character development and interaction, as well as how they interact with the world around them, is arguably the best aspect of the book. When you have less characters, you can make more of an impact with them. You can afford to be more concise in your writing, making it smoother and easier to read. If the writer knows what they’re doing, then this is a strength, not a weakness. Choosing to write a shorter story so that you can really emphasise the stronger, more developed aspects, is an amazing skill that can transfer well to longer novels.
On the flipside, longer novels can have a similar issue with pacing. When a writer sets out to write a 100,000 word+ novel, they know they have plenty of time and space to have fun with descriptions, varied plotlines, casts of characters, etc. Again, if done well, this works fine. It’s another skill that needs to be worked on and developed. If not done properly, this can end up with scenes and chapters that feel like they’ve gone nowhere, endless paragraphs of descriptions, characters that fall flat due to being left in the background in favour of 5 other characters. In addition, just the look of a huge book can be a big turn off for readers; it can feel intimidating!
So, we’ve looked at the issues readers may have with short books. But what about the internalised faults you have as a writer? When I was coming to the end of writing ‘Immunity’, I had considered adding extra chapters and content to the story to ‘flesh it out’. I considered this because I was worried it wouldn’t be seen as a ‘proper book’ because of how short it was. This worry was exemplified when I first received my proof paperback copy, and saw how small it was. And again when I began looking at literary agents, many of whom simply didn’t accept novellas or anything less than 45k words. These days, I still internalise that worry. I still push myself to add extra chapters, scenes and plot to my books to make them bigger. So that when I hold that paperback in my hand, it feels like a ‘real book’. It’s an awful concern to have because it’s simply untrue. If you write, you are a writer. Whether you write poems, abstract descriptions, YA fiction, non fiction- if you write it, you are a writer. If you publish it into a book, it’s a book! You are an author. Stories designed to be shorter will not benefit from additional junk and filler. If you finish your novel, finish the writing and editing, and realise it’s a lot shorter than you anticipated; that is okay. You don’t need to add anything to it if you don’t think it’ll be a genuine improvement on the story or quality of writing. Developing as a writer includes noticing when you actually need to make changes and edits, and when you need to step back and not let your worries take over.
If you’re a writer that has ever struggled with this, I hope this helped. It’s a very niche topic to discuss but hey, that’s what I do, I pick out niche things no one cares about and talks about them anyway. Let me know what your thoughts are on this subject!