When to Write a Novel vs. Novella: 3 Crucial Factors

POSTED ON Jul 27, 2023

Sarah Rexford

Written by Sarah Rexford

Home > Blog > Fiction, Learning, Writing > When to Write a Novel vs. Novella: 3 Crucial Factors

It’s time to get back to the keyboard, but the question arises: what is the difference between a novel vs. novella? Which one should you write?

In the coming days, you will devote hours to this project. Deciding what form your story should take is one of the first steps in your writing process.

Should you share your story over the traditional length of a novel? Does it fit better into the novella form? What would your readers most gravitate to between a novel vs. novella?

In this article, I break down the differences to help you decide whether you should write a novel vs. novella. I cover the lengths of each, different conventions, and share three crucial factors to consider when making the final choice. Ready to get going? 

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The 3 Main Differences Between a Novel vs. Novella

When deciding whether to write a novel vs. novella here are the three top things to consider:

1. The Length of the Story

Novels have a higher word count than novellas, and thus, often contain a less straightforward plot. 

Novellas are usually 10,000 to 40,000 words while a novel can easily exceed 100,000 words. Choosing the length of your work is the most important factor when deciding whether to write a novel vs. novella. But there are two thought processes that can help you decide.

2. The Complexity of the Story

Imagine The Count of Monte Cristo as a novella. The plot Alexandre Dumas and Auguste Maquet came up with is quite complex. It simply would not work. But now consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf By Niggle.”

Tolkien is a master at complex plots, but this short story belongs at the word count he published it at. When deciding whether to write a novel vs. novella, considering the complexity of your story is a large contributing factor in your ultimate decision. 

3. Who the Target Readers Are

Second, define your target audience early on so you can understand how much mental power they can commit to your story. If you write to middle-grade readers, you may want to confine your characters to the word count of a novella. 

However, if you are writing a historical fiction for adults on the intricacies of the evacuation of Dunkirk, trying to fit the necessary details into a novella will likely frustrate more mature readers. When questioning whether to write a novella vs. novel, consider your readership. 

Different Conventions in a Novel vs. Novella

Now that you have determined the complexity of your story and who your readers are, it’s time to discuss a few of the conventions commonly associated with a novel vs. novella. What makes each one different? 

Key Features of Novels

Writers are often encouraged to begin their novel as close to the inciting incident as possible. It’s important for readers to feel invested in the character, and therefore the action, immediately. Avoiding novel writing mistakes is essential for creating a captivating experience and increasing your chances to successfully sell your novel.

Novels, including romance novels, can use a singular point of view, or a plethora. While writers should avoid jumping from one point of view to another mid-scene, consider novels that use two or more viewpoints to tell the story: Allegiant, The Guest List, and The Sun Is Also A Star, to name a few.

Along with multiple POV (point of view) characters, novels often use multiple subplots that keep the reader turning pages, starting new chapters, and wondering what will happen next.

Key Features of Novellas

Novellas should also begin as close to the action as possible. However, novellas have much less space to introduce the inciting incident, events leading up to it, or even wrap up the story. The idea that every paragraph, sentence, and phrase matters is essential to novellas. 

Due to their concise story arc, novellas often include only one POV character. Additionally, while they can include a subplot, novellas often follow one key idea from start to finish. 

How To Make The Choice Between a Novella vs. Novel

With these features in mind, it’s time to discuss the three crucial factors to consider when determining whether to write a novella vs. novel.

How Well Do You Understand Writing?

If you are a newer writer, you may want to self-impose a lower word count. This allows you to:

  • Zero in on creating one standout plot
  • Focus on your protagonist instead of adding in multiple orbital characters 
  • Lessen the overwhelming feeling of staring down 70,000 words or more

When I started writing I wrote short stories. I had an idea, I had a setting, and I wrote about it until I wrapped up my plot. Later, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could come up with a plot that took a full-length novel to wrap up.

Learning how to write a novella is typically less daunting than learning how to write a novel, but it depends on your skill and how detailed your book idea is.

Whether your ultimate goal is to write a novel or novella, starting small helps the learning process and can push you forward in a slow, but steady, way. 

Related: Short Story Contests: Why They Matter And 4 Tips To Enter

What Length Best Supports Your Plot?

Once you have a grasp of how to write, it’s time to consider the word count that will best reflect your idea. If you write hard science fiction and need to establish an entire world, your premise may need the length of a novel. 

However, if you use a setting your readers are familiar with and don’t need to establish any uncommon world-building, rules, or other crucial details, a novella may work best. 

Additionally, consider the depth of your plot, aside from your setting. Imagine Frodo reaching Mordor in 10,000 words. On the other hand, imagine The Tale of Peter Rabbit lasting for 90,000 words. You get the point!  

When Will Your Characters Complete Their Arc?

The depth and growth of your characters will majorly impact how long a story you write. If you choose to focus on one particular character quality, you may be able to fit your character arc into a novella. 

But what if your protagonist lives in a fantastical world as an outsider and must overcome the demons of their past, accept their identity, and become king of the world? This character arc will likely take thousands of words to do it justice. 

Examples of Choosing a Novel vs. Novella + Your Next Step

For a straightforward example, consider the following young adult fiction scenarios:

Plot A, YA fiction: A freshman struggles to decide whether to skip school to spend the day fishing – or sit through another day of classes. 

Plot B, YA fiction: A freshman must overcome social anxiety leading up to attending his first day of high school in a new state. 

Plot A, with some additional character building, could satisfactorily fill a novella. By the last page, readers discover the protagonist’s priorities and close the book.

Plot  B, on the other hand, could take place over months. Imagine the summer leading up to the first day of fall classes, the anxiety every time he rides past the school, and the struggle to make any friends that summer. 

Many people struggle with social anxiety, and sharing a protagonist’s struggle and success would likely need thousands of words to do it justice. The desire to fish, though valid, likely can't carry a full-length novel. 

With these ideas in mind, I leave you to your big decision: Should you write a novel or novella? Take your time to consider your plot and protagonist and then get to writing! The good news is, you can always edit in more words to your novella or cut words from your novel. Best wishes with it! 


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