Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Novel, Novella, Novelette? (What the heck?)

Probably 99% of the population knows what a novel* is. It's a work of fiction. Usually 300-400 pages (80,000 to 100,000 words) long. It's got chapters. It's got characters and plots and sub-plots. And it can take hours and hours to read, even if you're a fast reader like me.
Photo by Alberto G.© 2006
But you ask readers if they know what a novella or a novelette are, and they start scratching their heads (at least the readers I asked sure did!).

So what exactly is a novella and a novelette?

According to the New World Encyclopedia, the novella has been around since the 14th century, where it was devoloped in Italy, but didn't become popular until the mid 19th century. A novella is "a narrative work of prose fiction shorter in both length and breadth than a novel, but longer than a short story." Novellas can be any genre: literary, mystery, science fiction, romance, you name it. They're usually between 17,500 to 40,000 words (approximately 60 to 130 pages), as defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or 20,000 to 30,000 words (approximately or 65 to 100 pages), as defined by the Romance Writers of America.

Some popular novellas (which you probably didn't even know were novellas!):

  •  "The Body" (Stand By Me, 1986) by Stephen King
  • "Rita Hayworth & "The Shawshank Redemption" (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994) by Stephen King
  • "Apt Pupil" by Stephen King
  • "A River Runs Through It" by Thomas Maclean
  • "The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov
  • "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote
  • "Heart of Darkness" (Apocalypse Now, 1976by Joseph Conrad
  • "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
  • "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1941) by Robert Louis Stevenson,
  • "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells

  • Today, outside the romance and science fiction/fantasy genres, few novellas are published. They're just too short to publish as a single book. Those that are published are usually grouped with one, two, or three other novellas, either by the same author or a group of authors in an anthology.

    Okay, so that's easy, right? A novella is basically a short novel. So then what's a novelette?

    While some people use novella and novelette interchangeably, historically, a novella and a novelette were two very different things. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define the a novelette as a work of fiction "at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words" (approximately 25 to 60 pages in length). So longer than a short story, but not as long as a novella.

    During the mid-20th century, novelettes were often published alongside short stories and serialized novels (novels published one chapter at a time, in case you didn't know) in general interest magazines. However, as short fiction fell out of favour, so did the novelette. Today, few general interest magazines carry fiction of any length.

    So no surprise so few readers know what a novelette or a novella even are!

    But in this modern age of ebooks, ereaders, smart phones, and personal electronic devices, both forms, the novella and the novelette, are seeing a rise in popularity once more. While novels still reign supreme, readers looking for something quick (but no less satisfying!) to read during their commute, over lunch break, during their kids' soccer practice or ballet class, or before bed, are finding novellas and novelettes just the right length.

    Some novellas and novelettes you might want to check out:

    Love By The Book

    Meet Megan, a manicurist by day and Avon salesgirl by night. After losing her job at Lucy Lu’s Salon, she escapes her real world troubles by burying herself in a romantic novel. But soon the fictional hero seems more genuine than the world around her and Megan is questioning the line between fact and fairytale. A nosy roommate and an angry cat also join forces to wreak a little havoc in Megan’s love life. Can she sort out fact from fantasy before her true hero slips away forever?
    Love Under the Bubble Wrap - a "Hen-Lit" Novelette

    Love Under the Bubble Wrap - a Novelette begins with the arrival of a mysterious gift. With a pressure-filled life, a recently disabled husband, and the shine dulled on her fifteen-year marriage, the package arrives just in time to provide a pleasing distraction from Debi's problems. The female leading lady isn't your typical twenty-something drop-dead gorgeous reedy willow. No, this is a story about a marriage in trouble and real life issues to which many readers will relate.
    Taker of Light, a retelling of the Brothers Grimm's Godfather Death
    Taker of Light is a post-apocalyptic speculative fiction story inspired by the Brothers Grimm's lesser-known fairytale, Godfather Death, in which Death raises a child who then betrays him. When a deep darkness descends on Earth, sixteen-year-old Raylie must protect herself from the source of the darkness and from the aliens who are seeking to colonize Earth when their planet is destroyed.
    All The Wrong Reasons

    Have you ever read one of those high-school romances where nobody ever finds happiness because of an endless series of mistakes, misunderstandings, and angsty teen hijinks? So has Henry, an otherwise reasonable high-school senior who'd rather kill himself than get caught up in a romantic-comedy nightmare. All he wants is a quiet, low-key, one-sided crush on a classmate, the sort of hopeless, bittersweet thing that builds character and inspires tortured poetry. Alas, despite his most strenuous efforts to the contrary, he finds himself embroiled in endless comedic tomfoolery. Will Cathy, the object of his slightly confused affections, develop feelings for him, after all? Will Henry even notice?

    Also, watch for my chick-lit/romantic comedy novelette, How to Cook Up a Disaster, coming out in September!

    *Novels in certain genres and categories can vary in length. For instance, middle grade novels can range from 25,000 words to 65,000 words on average and young adult novels can range from 45,000 to 85,000 words on average. See this blog post by agent Jennifer Laughran for a more detailed breakdown. But for the purpose of this blog post, I'm talking about novels in adult literature.


    1. These categories are for fiction for the adult market. MG could not fit here, as MG NOVELS can be 15,000 to 90,000 words. But most are around 30,000 words.
      Some novels don't have chapters.
      Otherwise, you are pretty much right about the adult market and book lengths. However, the E-book age is changing some things. Turns out E-readers are very open to much shorter novels.
      So the confusion you did a nice job clearing just got scrambled again...

      1. Yes, I was speaking about fiction for the adult market, not kidlit. :)

        Maybe I should put a little asterisk in there noting that kidlit tends to be much shorter.