London - Auction - World's Smallest Books ~ March 9, 2006. The entire collection was expected to fetch around £60,000.
Novella. It's not a small book, a short novel, or easy to write.
I recently read a post on Chronicles of a Novice Writer titled Novellas - Real or Myth? This got me thinking about novellas and how many writers misunderstand them completely. They are not a myth, and they are not just based on word count. (Hint, they can be longer than 40 or 50k, or shorter). Here's a generalized rundown of word count for you so we know how things stand. This, of course, discounts general word counts for more specific genres like Young Adult and Children's Literature.
up to 100
100 - 1,000
1,000 - 7,500
7,500 - 20,000
20,000 - 50,000
50,000 - 110,000
Epics & Sequels
Novellas are a genre in their own right. I tried to find some good information about them on the Internet, but didn't find a whole lot. From his essay, Briefly, the Case for the Novella, George Fetherling (author of the novella, Tales of Two Cities) says it best:
If size were the only consideration, however, there might be reason to revive what American magazine and pocketbook publishers of the 1940s and ’50s called a novelette. We can’t do this, however, because the term doesn’t take complexity into account. The novella isn’t simply longer than even a long short story and shorter than a novel, it’s also more complex than the first but not so complex as the second—in structure, in characterization: the works. Cariou is dead right in pointing out that the novella “is most often concerned with personal and psychological development rather than with the larger social sphere [and] generally retains something of the unity of the short story [but also] the more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description” of the novel.
I found it interesting that novellas are generally categorized as being serious in nature. Perhaps this is because they deal with personal and psychological development. They often lack subplots, large casts of characters, and usually take place in one location. They are unified, as one source from mantex.co.uk indicates:
The essence of a novella is that it has a concentrated unity of purpose and design. That is, character, incident, theme, and language are all focussed on contributing to a single issue which will be of a serious nature and universal significance.
Many of the classic novellas are concerned with people learning important lessons or making significant journeys. They might even do both at the same time, as do Gustave von Eschenbach in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and Gregor Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis - both of whom make journeys towards death.
I set out to find some good examples of novellas. I found a fun site that keeps a growing list of most "classic" novellas.
My friend Marisol gave me some good examples that she's read.
The Night Watch books by Sergei Lukyanenko
Apt Pupil by Steven King
Two of my favorite novellas are:
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (read it online here)
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Copote
And can I just say that I hate how Amazon describes Breakfast at Tiffany's as a short novel. Come on, people.
You know, I like short. A novella is something I can curl up on the couch with and read in an afternoon. It quickly satisfies my craving for good fiction, complex characters, and rich settings. As for writing a novella, I'm thinking I might tackle one for my next work! The idea of writing something tight and unified, filled with symbolism and focused on a serious subject - that's not 80,000 words - is appealing.
Pimp My Novel did a post awhile ago about how things specific things sell. I'm not so sure a novella would be easy to sell as a first book, but it wouldn't hurt to write one! I can't imagine that it would be any easier to write than a novel. In fact, it would probably be more challenging to make all that focus work. Focus is good.
Question For The Day: Have you misunderstood novellas in the past? Do you have any favorite novellas? Have you written one?
~MDA (aka Glam)