Novella…didn’t Orwell write one of those and weren’t we forced to read it in secondary school? Yes, he did and yes, you were, but don’t panic, this will only be half as boring! (Kidding it’s going to be fun).
To get to grips with the general idea of a novella (it’s really not that complicated, trust me) we’re going to look at a few things including its ‘counterparts’ (short stories and novelettes) of sorts, and the stripped bare definition itself. In short, a novella is a piece of literary work, most commonly fictional prose, which is comprised of no less than 17,000 words and no more than 40,000; that’s where we start to enter ‘novel’ territory.
Let’s get into it shall we?
So now that we’ve answered your question let’s go slightly further into the various differences between a novella and the aforementioned counterparts. Short stories are comprised of 3,500 to 7,500 words and will typically contain no overly complicated plot features or subversive themes. They’re known, however, for creating tales of morality where a larger, more meaningful notion can be taken from the story after the reader has finished reading it (see Hans Christian Anderson). The idea of a short story is not to ‘tie up loose ends’ after having developed a multitude of diverse issues but to instead allow the reader to partially come to their own conclusion as to the overall sentiment of the story. You’ll also find that short stories especially prevalent in the horror writing community due to their ability to play on the reader’s mind in such a short amount of time and directly leave a sense of fear resonating with the reader after they’ve finished. Writers who favour short stories will use them advantageously in order to create easier to read content that can be produced (often but not always) in a shorter amount of time than perhaps something of greater length.
Okay so THIS is where it gets good…
Moving on to the larger, weightier works, we have novelettes and novellas. Now whilst there is a small amount of speculation (depending on who you’re talking to) as to the actual length of a novelette, the general consensus is 7,500 to 17,500 words. Anywhere within this range and you’re good. After that we arrive at novellas, the more common of the two, with such examples being Animal Farm and Breakfast at Tiffany’s; you can already see how two bigger names tend to fall under the category of novella.That being said, I’m going to take novelettes and novellas in the same breath here, meaning that yes, although they differ in word count, for simplicity I’m going to assume that they bare essentially the same purpose and resemble one another almost entirely. Multiple plot lines of varying degrees of complexity can be found within novellas and are almost seen more so than in full length novels (40,000 words +) due to their often cryptic or satirical nature. Common themes which run throughout many novellas are that they are chapterless, contain morals or lessons, and can be read in one sitting. These factors, combined with their length being longer than that of a short story but considerably shorter than that of a novel, contribute to their continual success throughout the literary world.
Are we there yet? (Almost)
Now that we’ve hopefully got a clearer overview of what these different types of works are we can look more into their applications today, especially in the online writing world. With the increasing accessibility to writing equipment, and the decreasing levels of patience, people are thinking, writing and publishing online faster than ever. With this increased demand for new content comes an increased allowance for short stories and novellas in the form of eBooks and forum posts. The categorisation of smaller pieces of prose allows writers with little time to publish their works under the title of novella, novelette or short story, thus facilitating their desire to be known as a writer. Now, condescending tone aside, this is no bad thing at all! Novellas have consistently provided some of the most iconic works of fictional prose in the past century and it doesn’t look like anything is going to change anytime soon.
As I mentioned before, certain genres favour shorter word counts in order to allude to different themes without the need for overly complex plot development. It’s becoming more and more common to see online forums and communities using these methods to allow writers of all capacities to regularly create content and get it out there for everyone to see. To summarise; the idea of a novella has been around for ages and has provided us with some of the greatest works of literary fiction in the last century, but these doesn’t necessarily mean that a novella has to be something overly complex or daunting. It is the definition of a piece of literary fiction of a certain length, that’s all. So enjoy it, make use of it, and happy writing!