Defining the Novella

As authors go I consider myself to be fairly ignorant when it comes to the mechanics of my craft. I’m like someone who drives but hasn’t a clue how the engine works and can’t tell one make of car from another. I find myself perplexed at times by the multitude of genres and their crossovers. Similarly, the many structures and formats one is supposed to adhere to are tiresome. Perhaps I don’t like rules and regulations, or it could be I’m too lazy to learn them.

This week when I finished my latest work, a novella called Reality Check, I decided to address my ignorance of basic literary structures by finding out exactly what constitutes a novella.

The novella (Italian,‘new’) started to develop as a literary genre during the Renaissance (notably in 1348 with the The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio) and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the genre acquired various rules and structural requirements.

With a word count of between 17,500 and 40,000, the novella tends to be more complex than a short story but has far fewer conflicts than a novel. Frequently a novella is designed to be read at a single sitting.

Chapter divisions, subplots, different points of view, and changes in genre are not features commonly found in the novella. It turns its back on the wider world to focus instead on personal development. It’s like taking a short story then embellishing it with descriptive passages, expanding on the characterisation, and exploring the conflicts in greater depth.

You’d be surprised to know how many great literary works are novellas—Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, to name but a few.

I’m surprised to find that Reality Check meets the requirements, albeit by accident! Out of interest I also note that German writers see the novella as a narrative of any length that focuses on one suspenseful situation or conflict, with a decisive turning point that leads to a reasonable but surprising conclusion. Reality Check seems to have ticked all the boxes there too. All I need now is a publisher!


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8 responses to “Defining the Novella

  1. Great post, Carol! Even though I wasn’t an avid reader of novellas, my first book I published was a novella, and I’m currently working on two more. Congrats on completing your book, Reality Check. Hope you find a publisher soon.

  2. Thanks, Alicia. My beta-reader reckons it needs a few tweaks so I won’t be submitting it yet. I’ve still got three books submitted elsewhere and no-one is taking the bait. It’s all a bit like pulling teeth at the moment. 🙂

  3. Yes, I definitely agree that Reality Check ticks all the boxes (except one and you know what that is)! I think it definitely has potential so hope that publishers agree!

  4. Good luck getting it published!

  5. Gofrit, Carol! I hope it has some romance in it. They are easiest of all to place with a publisher. Anything else, I wish you the best of luck. Will let you know how I get on with my novella-that-turned-into-a-short-novel 🙂

  6. Thanks, Jane. The romance in mine, such as it is, is somewhat unusual lol. Good luck with your own work.

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