Novella Writing


Novella writing definitely has a place.

Sometimes we read so many rules about composing our prose; we simply don’t know how to begin to write for fear of making a mistake. The same holds true when writing long stories or a book.

What if we write a wonderful story, full of descriptive writing, maybe it’s long, and then we realize we haven’t followed all the rules?


Why would we offer that story for publication if it broke a few rules?


This 853-word article describes what I did about breaking with tradition when I wrote my novel, The Tropics. All I had heard beforehand was that I shouldn’t do what I planned. I did it anyway.

Writing novellas is certainly a viable option. More and more markets call for submissions of long stories


Markets do exist for the novella.

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To the End

Take Liberties


Take liberties with your writing process. I did. You can too. No matter what people said I couldn’t do, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and did it.

The seed for the novella, Caught in a Rip, germinated ages ago when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At that time, I asked myself why I couldn’t write a story like that. Yeah, sure, I wasn’t seriously writing then. Yeah, sure, I finally said. Me, write like Ernest Hemingway?

My flaw was in thinking that I had to emulate Hemingway’s style. That concept didn’t come to me till after I had written two intense novels and found my own style.

    All those years, I toyed with the idea of writing a sea story, one where the protagonist faces her devils alone. Yes, a female protagonist, after all.

I knew it would have to be a serious story, because I didn’t excel at humor. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write about a woman in a dire situation, but in the interim, I read Hemingway's book at least twice more because that’s from where my first inspiration came.

After finishing my second novel manuscript, I decided to take some time off to better learn the art of manuscript submission. I could take a sabbatical from writing, study the "how to" submission manuals I’d accumulated and do my conjuring on the beaches of Kauai.

Why live here if you never get into the ocean, right? I really had been immersed in my writing instead.

    During one of my all-day outings to Ke`e Beach on the North Shore, I discovered those huge docile green sea turtles. I just happened to have my camera along.

    Wearing nothing but snorkel, mask, and swim fins, I spent more than two hours bobbing and diving around the deep side of the reef photographing. I'm a good swimmer, but at some point I realized I was exhausted.

    When I tried to haul myself back to the reef, I could barely fight the outbound tide. I nearly panicked. I envisioned myself being caught in a rip current and getting pulled all the way out into the North Equatorial Current and never having a chance.

Yet at that very moment, my story of a woman in danger jelled in my mind. I would write about a woman photographing turtles and who gets caught in a rip current and swept out to sea. Serious, surely not humorous.

At that very moment nothing could keep me from getting back to the beach and to my pen and notepad.

I thought I had a short story. I wrote for days. I churned out some descriptive writing. By the time I polished the manuscript (or so I thought) I had a novella.

    At that time, I had no idea what to do with stories this length. Never mind that books like Hemingway’s books and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl contain few pages as completed publications.

    People said, "No one takes novellas anymore." I just didn’t know what to do with a this creation that I had so labored to write. So I posted it in an online workshop hoping to get a clue.

In the meantime, I was so jazzed at having written Caught in a Rip that I decided to lengthen another of my short stories languishing with no direction. At best, I might be able to publish a book of three to four long stories.

Then suddenly....

Reviews began coming in from other novella writers in the workshop. So if long short stories was a dying writing form, why were all these people writing them and willing to critique others?

I received reviews from mild comments to praise to graciously picking my story apart. But everyone's final comment was that Caught in a Rip was a great story, full of emotion, pain, and epiphany. Then I knew I needed to see it published. Why, it even had humor—in the last paragraph!

    I formulated a plan. If incidences in both my long stories written so far were similar, about the unspoken dangers of island living, why not make my separate protagonists know one another? All that was left would be to decide which story came first.

    That led me to the fact that the two stories still did not make a "good" length for a whole book.

    I decided to rewrite both stories, leaving some clues dangling in each. Both my protagonists would then be brought together and all foreshadowing wrapped up in a third story—an ongoing time line with characters progressing through each story. A trilogy, of sorts.

    At this point, I had no idea what I would write about in that third novella. Can you believe that? All I knew is that I had left some threads dangling from both the first two stories. Whatever I wrote would include those as focal points.

    That sounded right even though further comments told me no one publishes trilogies anymore.

By the time I finished the third story, I had a solid body of work with positive comments about the content from everyone who read the manuscript.

In the end, I had taken liberties with by aging my protagonists during a progressive time line.

One of the most difficult aspects was wrapping up each story so that it could stand on its own and still leave some mystery to wrap up in the third and final story.

Each of the three stories, if published separately, would be slightly larger than Hemingway's or Steinbeck's books mentioned above (see word counts and pages below).

And so, three novellas comprise my novel. Read the first chapter of the first story The Tropics: Child of a Storm - Caught in a Rip - Hurricane Secret.

Liberties. Take them. Your Muse will respond and free your writing.


Back to Take Liberties

To summarize...


As you surf the Internet looking for place to submit, pay attention to submission guidelines that call for long stories.

In fact, if you frequent sites that allow you to narrow down your search, look for guidelines for specific greater word counts. Look for guidelines for stories in which your word count will fit. Your novella may be viewed by many as simply a long story.

Word counts vary:

    Most say the novella is from 7,000 to 25,000 words. However, even that remains in a state of flux.

Recently, I’ve seen them described as being up to 40,000 words. And, of course, anything beyond that would be a small novel and so on.

    The average full-length novel averages 80,000 words with 50-60,000 word manuscripts having a hard time finding acceptance.

In the stories mentioned above...

    Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea contains 26,500 words of very descriptive writing and the 1975 edition contains 68 pages.

    John Steinbeck’s The Pearl is also vivid writing and contains 10,155 words and is 34 pages.

Given these two are well under the 40,000 word mark, the only problem I see today is that big publishing houses shy away from long stories due to publishing concerns. Editing, marketing, set-up, and promotion averages nearly as much to publish a novella in book form as it costs to publish a regular sized novel.

In my novel, The Tropics, which contains three entwined novellas, the numbers for these are:

    Child of a Storm: 30,076 words, 123 book pages

    Caught in a Rip: 25,180 words, 135 book pages

    Hurricane Secret: 20,986 words, 86 book pages


You can do a lot with your long stories, so do not be too concerned. Be diligent in your search.

The market for long stories is once again growing. A few small presses advertise occasionally for longer pieces. Others will serialize.

Too, you could also write 3-4 long stories and publish them yourself, as I did.

I’m also getting ideas about how I might stage a contest for novellas and publish an anthology. Hmmm… Just an idea, mind you….

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