10 Novellas to Read Part 1: What You Talkin’ About Willis?

Writing my most recent short story – a submission for a forthcoming print anthology – I raced past the minimum 7k and at some point realized I’d passed the 13k maximum with half of the story left to tell. I ended up with a 24k beast.  I’ll reduce it down – it certainly needs it, but it got me thinking about the novella.

So, a quick summary – a novella roughly runs between 17,00 and 40,000 words. (And to be complete the other definitions are roughly categorized as:

Flash Fiction: 53 – 1,000 words

Short Stories: 3,500 – 7,500

Novellettes: 7,500 – 17,000

Novellas: 17,000 – 40,000

Novels: 40,000 + words)

So is it simply a question of length that makes a novella different from a Novel?

Typically (and writing about Novellas involves a lot of ‘typically’s.), a novella can include sub plots- occasionally a number of them. It can include twists and multiple characters – often drawn out beyond what one would expect from a short story  with more nuance and background, but probably not as much as a full blown novel, and more typically (that word again) will be focused more on one character – most commonly the protagonist, and their development either personal, emotional or narrative wise; and often a combination of the three.

More often than not, a novella will not have chapters the way a novel would, and commonly, like their shorter siblings, will be intended to read in one sitting.

Of course, how much of the preceding is dictated or contained simply by the length allowance, or the genre it is aimed at (most Children’s ‘novels’ could be considered to fall into the ‘novella’ category if it were to be judged only on length), should be considered and I am conscious that a number of those I have chosen in the ten to read posts could very well be considered novels, and other than the word length break the commandments mentioned, but hey, it’s my blog. So there. Oh, and they’re all definitely worth reading

In his highly readable introduction/ afterword to Different Seasons, his collection of four novellas including The Body (filmed as Stand By Me), Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (filmed as ‘The Shawshank Redemption’), Apt Pupil (filmed as, umm…’Apt Pupil‘) and The Breathing Method (scheduled for release in 2020), Stephen King writes a humorous piece about the lower-class status of the form; “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.” King, who anyone who has read him will know, does have a tendency to run long in novels and, indeed some of his short stories, so it’s easy to see his affection for the style and the advent of small press, ebooks and, hell, because he’s King, through publications mainstream publishers wouldn’t probably consider, (The Mist, the collected stories in Hearts in Atlantis, and many more),  have seen a number of releases since that initial collection.

Ian McEwan sees no shame in the novella, writing that it is “… the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant.

So, that’s a short and admittedly liberal introduction to Novellas. Look out for parts 2 and 3 coming soon which, bearing these thoughts in mind, looks at 10 great Novellas.

And if you’re writing, and concerned your short may be turning into novella, or your novella into a novel, then it could just mean that you have more story to tell, so maybe you should just run with it…and having said that, I’d better get back to reigning this beast in to fit the word count. But one day? Maybe it’ll go back to its’ ‘slumming it’ roots…

And if you like Novellas, well, there aren’t any in Basement Tales but if you read really slow it might seem like there is…and there is one approaching novella length in the coming soon, You Could Make a Killing – watch this blog for more details on that one…

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