How to Outline a Novella

With the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo happening in a little over three weeks, I have put much thought into the project I will be writing, as well as the project I would like to finish by the end of the month. Both of these projects are novellas. I usually write in this format; I have written as least one a year for the past three years. With this past experience, I have created a simple outline to follow should you want to write a short novel.

A novella is defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as having a word length between 17,500 and 40,000 words. I have also seen novellas described as having a word count of 49,999. Either way, the novella is shorter than the novel. Novellas have been making a comeback in modern readership due to the rise of eBooks. Their concise nature makes them popular with readers who want a “literary snack.”

I am attracted to the novella because of its brevity. I am still a young writer, having just written my first novel only a few months ago (and it’s not even in one piece yet!), so I am still learning the intricacies of subplots and the like. Novellas, in their brevity, focus mainly on the primary story, with enough room for one other subplot, should the author wish. Novellas can also be a great writing exercise.

If you want to get technical with word count, putting two 25,000-word novellas together turns into a novel.

A novella’s outline can be as detailed or concise as you, the writer, make it to be. I personally prefer detailed outlines; I like to know exactly what my characters are doing, when. For the sake of this post, however, I will keep the outline short.

  • Plot Point #1
    • Something that happens because of Plot Point #1
      • Something that links Plot Points #1 and #2
  • Plot Point #2
    • Something that happens because of Plot Point #2
      • Something that links Plot Points #2 and #3
  • Plot Point #3
    • Something that happens because of Plot Point #3
      • Something that links Plot Points #3 and #4

Using this pattern, the story can carry itself to the end, with as many plot points and events in between as the author wants. This outline guideline shows how the contents of a story are tied together. I have the habit of writing out of order; with this outline, I can write Plot Point #3 before Plot Point #2 and still know what I need to write because I have written down what happens in between.

Now, back to that word count. With the official minimum word count at 17,500, if you decide you want seven plot points, that means each plot point and everything that relates to it until the next plot point should be at least 2,500 words. After the seven plot points, you have enough words for a novella! I usually do some writer’s math to determine the word count I need to reach per plot point.

Writer’s Math Formula: Total Word Count divided by total number of Plot Points


Math aside, it’s not the amount of words you write that makes your story great; it’s you and the story you tell. While no one should judge a book on its word count, keeping the number in mind is a great tool for writers to gauge where they are at in their project.

What are you doing for Camp NaNoWriMo? Do you have writing formulas of your own?


11 thoughts on “How to Outline a Novella

  1. Thanks for sharing your novella outline process, Amanda! For Camp NaNoWriMo, my goal is to complete a full-length novel, like I did during NaNoWriMo last November. I’m a very sequential writer, so my outlining formula is to know my starting point and know my ending, and then go step-by-step through the plot points until I get from A to Z. Simply and effective for a chronological thinker like me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s a great way to outline! I try to be sequential, but I normally think of the ending or a general theme and build from there. Sometimes my thoughts are so scattered it’s hard for me to write in order.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I envy people who can write out of order. I wish I could do both. For me, I always think of the ending and theme first, but then I stew on the idea until I come up with a strong beginning, at which point I work sequentially back up to the end. It would definitely be nice to skip around some, but it just doesn’t work for me at this point!


  2. I am a hybrid writer. I will outline to a point, then just write, write,write without an outline then I go back to making an outline when I get stuck. I also tend to write the order of events when I go back and read the work again, it gives me a better feel for the story at a glance and I can organize it better that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds similar to my process! Though I’ve been trying to make my outlines more concise recently to leave room for character exploration. I love how there is no right way to outline (or not outline)!


  3. My problem here is, what is a Plot Point? Is it some external things that lands on the main character and he has to deal with it?

    I always find the best stories to be exploration of characters. Every event should lead to the characters to tell us something about them – how they reacted to it, or why they made it happen. I’d say it’s more important to have something meaningful that your characters will be involved in, and this will drive the story.


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