JWAM reader request no. 13: Novel lengths

Jaya Lakshmi says:

I have several interrelated questions:
1) How short can a novel be, in terms of word count?
2) How do you expand a novella (around 114 pages) into a novel? What are your suggestions?

1) I think the length of a novel depends on what genre it is. Novels for children and young adults are sometimes much shorter than ones for adults. Some chapter books are only about ten thousand words long. Though the shortest YA novel I know of is about 35,000 words.

I’m pretty sure some romance novels are as short as 50 thousand. I suspect that’s about as short as you can go for an adult novel. But it’s not a part of the publishing world I know a lot about.

2) I have absolutely no idea. This is something I’ve never done.

Has anyone reading this turned a novella or short story into a novel? How did you do it? I’m dead curious because I have been thinking of turning “Thinner Than Water” into a novel.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.


  1. ebear on #

    I’ve done the expansion thing, and there seem to be two basic theories: one is to write more that goes after, and the other is to elaborate on and complicate up what you’ve got.

    Both of these tactics can lead to success or failure, depending.

    It seems to me that there are iterating layers of complexity in fiction. Flash tends to be very simple, one image, one moment in time, one emotion. Short stories tend to have a single character going through a single moment of crisis, and everything has to be very tightly thematically linked to work well.

    Novellas can elaborate on that with room for subplots and some tightly controlled side trips, and in a novel you can really widen that out even more–several plots, side trips, thematic arguments and sub-arguments, a plethora of characters….

  2. Sam on #

    Never written a novella-to-novel extension, but here’s a suggestion:

    Perhaps you could take cues from different mediums. For instance, the novels Dead Until Dark and Darkly Dreaming Dexter have both been adapted into TV series (True Blood and Dexter, respectively) that were forced to really flesh out the plots/characters/etc of the book world.

    Maybe it would be worth tracking down interviews with the head writers of both series about how they developed the novels to TV, to get ideas on how they built on and lengthened these established worlds and plots? Obviously writing a novel and writing for TV are two very different things, but you might be able to glean some inspiration there.

  3. Laini Taylor on #

    I’ve turned a very short story into a novella — from probably 2,000 words to 30,000ish. I remember that there were certain elements to the very short piece (which had stemmed from a writing prompt) that really intrigued me and made me want to expand them. I spent a lot of time at the outset brainstorming a way to do so — how to give the characters a larger life and make more of the premise. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t really different from having a small seed of an idea for a story or novel and figuring out how to bring it to life. I only ended up really keeping the first line plus a few key ideas.

  4. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Most adult novels are between 70-120,000 words. There are a few exceptions, such as Harlequin category novels written to particular lengths depending on the line (check out the harlequin website for details on that) or special gift books (like The Five People You Meet in Heaven).Most YA novels are not shorter than 50k, though they can also be quite long (like Harry Potter). Younger children’s book can also be anything from 25k to as long as long adult novels.

  5. writergirl on #

    Would it work for a really short story. Everything i write is to short. 🙂

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