Fictional Writing: How to Distinguish Between the Novella, the Novelette, and the Novel

Introduction in different writing genres

As you all know, I am doing a mini series on different types of fictional writing. I am not doing it in any particular order, I am just so passionate about fiction writing, I wanted to get into the core of this area. I am learning a lot as I go, and sharing -I hope that you are enjoying it too. This article will deal with the area of the novella. There are debates about this genre of writing that make no apologies. This is because writing and particularly fiction is evolving all the time and constant change will cause friction and differing points of view. So here goes...sit back, make yourself a beverage whilst I regale you about the story behind the novella.

What is a novella?

Like the short story, the novella is a written piece of fictional prose. It is shorter than a novel but it is longer than a novellette. Although some argue that novella and novellette are just too similar to be different forms of written prose. But despite the differences of opinion, the general consensus is that the word count of a novella is between 17,000 and 40,000 words. Although popular and recognised in a few European languages, it is much less known in the English language.

So...where does the word "novella" come from?

Being a passionate writer and linguist, I am always researching the etymology of words and phrases to see where they come from. So I was not going to pass up on the opportunity to do a little background research work on the the word. Novella, comes from the Italian word meaning a story or a piece of information. Let me add an Angelique twist - when referring to a novel or novella, I just think of something new and that is what every work of fiction is, it is something new and fresh from the imagination of the writer and should be considered as such.

What is the difference between a novella and, say , er . . . a novel and short story?

A novella differs from a novel and a short story in various ways. Firstly, a novella does not have as much going on in the plot and character development stakes as the novel does, but it does have more than the short story does. The story endings of the novella tend to happen on the cusp of a major development and change in the storyline. A novella does not have chapters like a novel but, much like the short story, is designed to be read in one sitting (if anyone has managed this, please let me know . . . ) but there are breaks dividing different sections of the story. One of the best descriptions of the novella comes from Warren Carriou which states that:

"The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the short 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 psychological 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."

Another description goes further, explaining that 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." (Silverberg, 2000).

So what is the fuss and confusion all about then?

Trying to explain this would only serve to confuse you even further so I will give a general overview. Different languages differentiate between novellas, novels and short stories. If you want to know about this, you should visit Wikipedia on this subject by clicking on this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella. Unfortunately, the lenghtier the novella, the more likely it is to be called a novel--just ask the writer of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) amongst others.

Because the novella is fairly new and diverse, its parameters have not been fixed yet. So keep watching this space--who knows, there might be some consensus within our own literary community, here at Factoidz . . . .

Ok, thank you for that.  Just one more question...are there any famous novella writers?

Well, in fact there are .  You might recognise some of them. Here are just a few:

  • John Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men (remember the film? Quality)
  • George Orwell - Animal Farm
  • Truman Capote - Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • H.P Lovecraft - The Shadow Out of Time

So your mission is to find out five more; use the Internet, the library, your friends and family. (This is how you find good things to read, and spread the word about the stories you have enjoyed.) The aim is not to get fellow readers and writers into competition, but to encourage research, enthusiasm and analytical skills which will stand you in good stead for those potential novelists and authors out there . . . As well as their readers.

I hope you have enjoyed this, keep watching this space . . . Put your favorite authors and their novellas that come to mind in the comments . . . .

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Angelique Fyre
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