Novel · Poem · Drama|
Short story · Novella
Epic · Lyric · Drama|
Romance · Satire
Tragedy · Comedy
|Performance (play) · Book|
|Prose · Verse|
|History and lists|
Outline of literature|
Index of terms
History · Modern history
Books · Writers
Literary awards · Poetry awards
|Criticism · Theory · Magazines|
A novella (also called a short novel) is a written, fictional, prose narrative longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000. Other definitions start as low as 10,000 words and run as high as 70,000 words.
The novella is a common literary genre in several European languages. English language novellas include Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Herman Melville's Billy Budd, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans.
A novella has generally fewer conflicts than novels, yet more complicated ones than short stories. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. They have endings that are located at the brink of change. Unlike novels, they are not divided into chapters, and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as the short story, although white space is often used to divide the sections. They maintain, therefore, a single effect. Warren Cariou wrote:
The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the long story and the novel can be, and it usually lacks the subplots, the multiple points of view, and the generic adaptability that are common in the novel. It is most often concerned with personal and emotional development rather than with the larger social sphere. The novella generally retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description.
The idea of serialized novellas dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, from around the 10th century. The novella as a literary genre later began developing in the early Renaissance literary work of the Italians and the French. Principally, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), author of The Decameron (1353)—one hundred novelle told by ten people, seven women and three men, fleeing the Black Death by escaping from Florence to the Fiesole hills, in 1348; and by the French Queen, Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549), [aka Marguerite de Valois, et. alii.], author of Heptaméron (1559)—seventy-two original French tales (structured like The Decameron).
Not until the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries did writers fashion the novella into a literary genre structured by precepts and rules. Contemporaneously, the Germans were the most active writers of the Novelle (German: "Novelle"; plural: "Novellen"). For the German writer, a novella is a fictional narrative of indeterminate length—a few pages to hundreds—restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (Wendepunkt), provoking a logical, but surprising end; Novellen tend to contain a concrete symbol, which is the narration's steady point. They are still famous now.
This etymological distinction avoids confusion of the literatures and the forms, with the novel being the more important, established fictional form. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's (1881–1942) Die Schachnovelle (1942) (literally, "The Chess Novella", but translated in 1944 as The Royal Game) is an example of a title naming its genre.
Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Heart of Darkness are sometimes called novels, as are many science fiction works such as The War of the Worlds and Armageddon 2419 A.D. Less often, longer works are referred to as novellas. The subjectivity of the parameters of the novella genre is indicative of its shifting and diverse nature as an art form. In her 2010 Open Letters Monthly series, "A Year With Short Novels," Ingrid Norton criticizes the tendency to make clear demarcations based purely on a book's length:
Google “novels” and “length” and you will find tables of word counts, separating out novels from novellas, even from the esoteric and still shorter “novelette” — as though prose works were dog show contestants, needing to be entered into proper categories. But when it comes to writing, any distinctions that begin with an objective and external quality like size are bound to be misleading. The delicate, gem-like jigsaw of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Ray could not be more unlike the feverishly cunning philosophical monologue of Albert Camus’ The Fall, but both novels are about the same length.
Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic"; King notes the difficulties of selling a novella in the commercial publishing world, since it does not fit the typical length requirements of either magazine or book publishers. Despite these problems, however, the novella's length provides unique advantages; in the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes:
[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
In his essay "Briefly, the case for the novella", Canadian author George Fetherling (who wrote the novella Tales of Two Cities) said that to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like "saying a pony is a baby horse."