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What Is a Novella and What Makes Them Different?

What is a novella? I don’t think anyone can give a clear-cut answer to that, but to economically and objectively put it, it’s the type of prose that lies between a full-sized novel and a novelette.

It’s more complex than a novelette but lacking the depth of a novel.

And in the words of the great Stephen King, novellas are nothing but “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.

what is a novella & what makes them different

What Makes a Novella?

Well, there are a couple of things that we look at before saying that this is a novella or something else.

Obviously the length comes first, then after we look at whether the text is a work of fiction.

Here are some elements of a novella (which, might I add, are not Mosaic laws for determining a novella):

  • Works of fiction
  • Usually does not have subplots
  • Focuses on one main character
  • Typically read in one day
  • It’s more complex than a short story works, and has a lesser thickening plot than a novel
  • Can be published as a book using digital or print media
heart of darkness by joseph conrad is a great novella example
Heart of Darkness, is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. (Image credit: “heart of darkness” by Drümmkopf on flickr CC BY 2.0)

How Long Is a Novella?

Again, there is no generally prescribed word count for a novella.

Actually, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding this element; some people will tell you that it’s around between 7,500 and 40,000, while others will say it’s between 17,500 and 50,000.

But anything with a word count below 17.5k is definitely not a full-fledged novella—that’d be a novelette if the word count is above 7.5k.

We will talk more about novelettes and other types of prose in the succeeding sections, but most publishers agree that a full-length novella ought to be 20k-50k.     

How Many Pages Is a Novella?

Typically, a novella has about 100-120 pages and sometimes more.

But the page count isn’t the determining factor; the word count is.

With page count, there are things—dialogue, for example—that can stretch the number of pages.

For example, you might have a character that is involved in a lot of dialogue but mostly utters short sentences, so you have to start a new line every time he says something—even when it’s a simple “yes”.

Those dialogues bloat passages with blank spaces and pages fill up rapidly with little content.

Comparing Novellas to Other Prose Types

To better understand what a novella is, it is essential to know its siblings from the fiction family. Ordered according to word count and depth, we have:

  • Short stories: (up to 7,500)
  • Novelettes: 7,500-20,000
  • Novellas: 20,000-40,000
  • Novels: 50,000+ (some publishers accept 40,000+)

Short Stories

short story named the necklace
An artist’s illustration of The Necklace, a short story written by Guy de Maupassant. (Image credit: “Necklace” japan1010 on flickr CC BY 2.0)

This is the shortest prose narrative. The implication of a short story’s low word count is that it does not accommodate an extensive character and plot development compared to a novella.

Apart from the length and depth, short stories are quick reads and can be read within minutes, while novellas can take hours or days for “lazy readers.”

In addition, short stories don’t usually get published as a single piece—unless it’s in digital format. Most of the time, they are bundled into an anthology (print or digital), in a mag, or a newspaper.

On the other hand, a novella can be published as a single piece (print or digital).

Novelettes

le petit prince the little prince
Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, is an example of a Novellette.

When a story moves from a simple short story plot to a complex one but is in the range of 7,500 to 20,000, then you have a novelette.

It’s characteristic of a novelette to have a plot that is more intricate than a short story but less complex than a novella.

Moreover, you have a better chance of convincing a publisher to publish your novella than a novelette.

But, thanks to the internet, you can get your novelette published in digital form.

You can upload your short works to kindle, kobo, heck, even Wattpad.

Novels

When you’re writing fiction, a novel is the best option for telling a very complex story with plenty of twists, subplots, and a couple of primary characters.

a novel has more depth than a novella
A Novel has a complex plot and it is divided into chapters.

Unlike novellas, novels typically have chapters, and the story may jump from one character to another as the reader moves from chapter to another.

Although traditional publishing houses lean more towards novels than novellas, both types of prose can be published as printed books, in digital form, or both (by both publishing houses and indie authors).

If you have a novel that doesn’t seem to hit the required word count, you could just turn it into a novella. You never know; the shorter version might actually be more appealing to the reader than an entire novel.

Types of Novellas

There are a lot of types of novellas, but I love the three categories that E.A Deverell—the author of a steampunk novella, The Floral Underworld—came up with.

1.  The Literary Novella

E.A Deverell thinks that novellas are perfect for literary experimentation because they allow the writer more scope than short stories do.

I totally agree with the author.

More length—compared to a short story—means that you can add more dimensions to a story without overstuffing it.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka are all literary novellas.

2. The Inspirational Novella

Sometimes, an author writes very touching stories that are aimed at inspiring its readers.

The novella is long enough to contain a thorough well-composed message and just short enough not to lose the reader’s attention.

There have been some hits with this type, notably The Alchemist written by Paolo Coelho, and The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

3. The Genre Novella

Most modern-day writers are interested in writing genre novellas.

With this type, self-published science fiction and fantasy authors are making a name for themselves and in the process, making respectable sales.

Examples of Famous Novellas

Looking at the length of a novella, one might be forgiven for thinking that a novella is only for writers who are probably lazy to write a full-sized novel and get their names in the literature hall of fame.

But…

That assumption is wrong, and novellas aren’t as new as perceived. A thorough dig into literary history shows that they were on the shelves before novels—at least a century early.

Moreover, a lot of famous writers—who were capable of inking 800-paged novels—have inked one or two novellas—the likes of Hemmingway, Franz Kafka, and Charles Dickens.

These and numerous other literary hall of famers called upon their writing genie’s to ink great novellas.

Here are some of the famous writers and their famous novellas:

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

The Old Man and The Sea

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Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm

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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon

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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange

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The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger

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The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

The Turn of the Screw

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Publishing a Novella

Unless you’re a big-name writer, you probably have a better chance of getting your novella published by a small press or vanity press (if you are that desperate).

But even that is a long shot.

A third option would be self-publishing on online platforms like Amazon Kindle or Kobo.

Although self-published is much easier nowadays compared to small presses, making sales requires a lot of hard work and persistence. The self-publishing scene is now flooded with billions of books, all competing for a decreasing number of readers due to a sharp decrease in the reading culture.

But as I said, hard work and persistence might land your book on the bestseller list.

Whatever publishing route you end up using, you will find out that the genre of your novella does affect its sales.

So, it’s prudent that you do thorough market research before embarking on any publishing route.

What Is a Book Series & Can You Create One from Novella Stories?

Most aspiring and published writers probably know what a book series is…

But for those that don’t know, a book series is a bundle of interrelated literary works which are published in succession. After the first book, each fresh book or story in the series has to continue from where its predecessor ended.

Or, you could cover a story up to the end in the first book only, then, in the second book, you can take an earlier timeline than the first book—taking the story into the past when the characters were young or before they were born.

The possibilities are limitless!

Now that you know that a novella can get you on that bestseller list, you might be asking yourself, “Can I develop a book series off of my novella?”

Of course, you can!

You can develop a book series from novels and novellas, novelettes, or short stories.

And the good thing is that a novella is shorter than a novel, meaning you could have a lot more books in your series, and you could complete them faster than if you used novels.

Wrapping Up: It’s Time to Write Than Bestselling Novella

There you have it; all you need is a coherent 20k words, and… you’re an author!

So what are you waiting for? Open your Scrivener, and ink away!

Let me leave you with a quote from M. Kirin, “All great authors share one thing in common: They finished their books.”

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.