What do Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote), The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway), Animal Farm (George Orwell), The Time Machine (HG Wells), and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) have in common?
They are all novellas. I’m sure you’ve heard of some if not all of them.
A Wikipedia definition is that a novella generally features fewer conflicts or plot points than a novel yet can be more complicated than a short story. They are generally intended to be read in one sitting and usually don’t have chapters, although can be divided into sections using white space. This maintains a single effect, rather than several plots and subplots as seen in a novel.
According to Wikipedia, one of the first to write a novella was Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron in 1353. The Decameron contained one hundred tales told by ten people fleeing the Black Death by escaping from Florence to the Fiesole hills in 1348. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the current form (between 20,000-40,000 words) took shape.
So why consider the novella? It’s a great way to explore an idea without getting too involved with subplots. It’s also a way to progress from long short stories into longer form with the view to novel length work. A bit like strengthening your writing muscles.
Many writers will be judgemental about the novella, as if the creator doesn’t have the stamina for a fully-fledged novel. But don’t think that writing a novella doesn’t require hard work. The demands for economy require that every word and every line be polished until sparkling. Remember: The length of a work doesn’t not determine how good it is. How many novels have you read that could be trimmed down because they lost their way?
If you’ve never read a novella, I highly recommend you do. All of those above are classics worth reading. It’s a form of writing that I think has a very important place on our literary landscape, while also satisfying the poor attention spans of people who say they
don’t have time to read.
Or maybe you’d like to read the winning novella from our Great Novella Search – The Uncanny Love of Jimmy Panagakos. If you’re a writer, maybe you’d like to enter your own novella into the next search which is open now.