You may have heard the terms “novel” and “novella” before, but what do they actually mean? And which one should you write? In this post, we’ll take a look at the differences between these two genres, so you can decide which is best for your story. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of each format, so you can make a decision about which to choose for your project.
A Novel Is a Book With a Long Narrative in Literary Prose
A novel is a fiction book with a long narrative in literary prose. It’s usually a work of fantasy that tells of the adventures or life experiences of characters that may or may not be loosely based on real people or events. Length varies by genre and definition but generally ranges from 50,000 to 200,000 words.
For example, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald has only 48,000 words and would not be considered a full-length novel, but instead a novella because of its short length.
A Novella Is Shorter Than a Novel But Longer Than a Short Story
A novella is a work of written, fictional, narrative prose that’s usually longer than a short story but a shorter work than a novel.
It has been generally accepted that novels have a minimum word length ranging from 50,000 to 110,000 words or more; whereas those for novellas should be 19,000-50,000 words long.
The English word “novella” comes from the Italian for “new,” the feminine form of “novello,” which is related to the English word “novel,” meaning “new.” As a description of length, the term implies a shorter length than a novel.
In French, this literary form is called nouvelle (“new novel”). The Italian equivalent is “romanzo breve,” literally “short novel” or “story told quickly.” As mentioned earlier, the novella stands between the long and short forms: it’s not quite as ambitious or complex as the former, but is more substantial and often more emotionally compelling than the latter.
The novella often deals with a limited number of characters and focuses more on character development than plot development; however, this rule can be circumvented in certain cases, such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where he achieves dramatic tension through his talent for writing descriptive passages that bring to life the absurdity of evil.
A Novella Contains a Complete Plot With Themes, Characters and Plot Development
A novella has the basic structure of the main character (protagonist), rising action, climax, and resolution.
The elements of the setting and characters are developed in detail. However, not every detail is revealed about the main character as in novels or there may not be too many subplots as in novels.
A novella can be published as an individual work or part of an anthology together with other stories by the same author or different authors. It can also be published as part of other literary works such as poems or plays.
The central idea of the whole work is contained within itself even if it’s part of other literary works such as poems or plays. There are only a limited number of settings that are explored in-depth rather than creating new minor scenes for each chapter like in long novels.
A Novella is Longer Than a Novelette
A novella is longer than a novelette. A novelette typically runs from 7500 words to 19,000 words.
These different lengths are based on the author’s need to tell the story in the best way possible. For example, if an author needs to develop several subplots and delve into his characters’ psyches, he may choose to write a novel or even an epic of more than 100,000 words.
However, a novelette should have plot and character development as well. The plot of a novella is usually more complex than that of a novelette. The length of a novella allows for greater character development than it would be possible with shorter works such as novelettes.
Other authors may simply want to relay an entertaining story with no frills. In this case, they might choose to write a typical short story of between 1,000 to 7,500 words. Less than 1,000 words story length, and you enter the realm of flash fiction.
Flash fiction can also be referred to as microfiction or short-short stories. Flash fiction should have a beginning, middle, and end and can take the form of a story or a poem. It can either tell an entire story or it can be one scene that contains one moment in time within a larger story.
Like all writing, flash fiction needs to create believable characters and pursue a plotline that ends up somewhere other than where it began. Characters need to have motivations for their actions and have other things happen around them besides what they set out to accomplish.
Flash fiction should present an entire cycle of events no matter how small or large in scope these events may be; this is what creates the feeling, for example, of going from a place of innocence at the beginning of an event to a place of experience at its conclusion.
Things to Keep In Mind When Choosing the Format
- Character development: Every story needs a protagonist, and the longer it is, the more time it has to develop them. Usually, in short stories, there is not enough space to fully develop characters that are more than one-dimensional. But in a novel or novella, there is plenty of time to show who your main character is by their actions and reactions as well as how they feel about other people and situations. A novelette usually does not have this luxury of time and space.
- Multiple characters: if your story needs multiple characters, you might be better served by choosing to go for a full-length novel rather than a novelette.
- Plot: A major difference between a novel/novella/novelette lies in how much room the writer has for plot development. A short story can most effectively convey simple events between perhaps a couple of people because there isn’t enough space for much else. However, longer works can include many more events and scenes which create bigger plots with more characters that are able to be fleshed out over an extended period of time.
- Length of Story: This refers both to the number of words written by an author during his or her writing process as well as being represented on paper when printed out or published after editing has been finished. It’s important here because all three different types have specific word counts that must be followed if you want them categorized correctly when publishing and marketing.
Benefits of Writing in a Novella versus a Novel
Here are a few benefits of writing in a novella rather than a full novel:
- It’s easier and less time-consuming to complete. The work of devising the story structure is easier. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to commit to the marathon that is writing an entire novel, but you still want to write-so why not write a novella instead?
- It’s easier for your work to be published as a novella. Publishers typically publish novels by well-known authors only, so if you’re trying to break into traditional publishing, or into literary magazines, it might be better to get your foot in the door with something shorter and less demanding.
- You can use the novella as one chapter in a book or as part of a series. Novellas typically stand-alone, but they can also be used as one chapter within a larger book; some people even use them as a way to introduce characters before starting their own series.
Expanding a Novella Into a Novel
It is possible to expand a novella into a full-length novel.
If you want to expand a novella into a novel, you must make sure that the story is strong enough to sustain the extra length. You should also be confident that you can write the novel, and it helps if people have been asking for more of your novella.
- You Can Add Characters And Subplots. One way to add length to your story is to create new characters and add subplots involving them. If one of your characters is in love, then create a new character for him or her to fall in love with. Or consider having a married couple who started out very happy together but are now drifting apart as they grow older and experience frustrations in their lives.
- Describe What The Characters Are Doing In More Detail. Another way to increase the word count is to simply describe what’s happening in more detail. This can work particularly well if there’s an extended chase scene or a fight between two characters where you describe every punch, kick and perhaps head butt! By providing more information about what’s going on, you can turn an event that might last only half a page into something taking up three or four pages (and many thousands of words).
- Lastly, although this may seem like common sense do not try to expand every novella into a novel, as some works will only ever lend themselves well to being shorter pieces of literature.
How Many Characters Should Be in a Novella
The best answer is: as few as possible.
Unless it suits the telling of your story, try to limit the number of characters. You want your readers to be able to focus on your main character/s and not feel confused or overwhelmed with a multitude of characters to keep track of. Not only will a multitude of characters make characterization more difficult, but they risk becoming interchangeable making it harder for the reader to distinguish one from another.
In a novella, there really is no need for multiple points of view (POV). In fact, having less POV is a good way to make sure that readers stay focused on the main characters however troubling their situation may be!
Examples of Novels and Novellas in Modern Literature
In the early years of literature, a short novel was often called a novella. In fact, many novels that are now considered classics are shorter than 50,000 words.
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, for example, has only 21,180 words. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is only slightly longer at 26,601 words. These works are called novels, although they’d be called novellas if one were to adhere to the strict definition of these two forms of prose literature.
Some novels can contain 500,000 words or more. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace takes 561,304 words to tell its tale. More recently, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy runs at 591.554 words. At least a couple of Stephen King novels push at the half-million-word mark – The Stand, and It come immediately to mind. While George R.R. Martin is known for his blockbuster novels – A Storm of Swords is 424,000 words, and A Dance With Dragons is 422,000.
Many self-published novels, especially in the Romance genre, are much shorter. Typically running at 50,000 – 60,000 words.
It’s important to note that the length of a novel in no way defines quality. The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-Five, and The Tombs of Atuan all come under 50,000 words and are considered classics.
Origins of the Novella
The term “novella” appeared in Italy in the 13th century to describe short stories of love, politics, or humor and was then reinvented by writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio into short tales to tell common themes.
The genre was influential among masters of the written word such as Shakespeare and Chaucer, who used the Italian novella plots as grist for their storytelling mills.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, the novella was in widespread usage – with authors such as Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, and Henry James all writing works of that length and form.
The Deciding Factor
Though word count is often the deciding factor, there are a few other key differences between a novel and a novella. For one, novels tend to have more characters than novellas. They also tend to be longer in length, giving the author more time to explore the plot and develop the characters.
Novellas, on the other hand, tend to be more focused. With fewer characters and a shorter length, authors must make every word count. This can make for a tighter, more suspenseful story.
So which is right for you?
If you have a complex story with multiple plotlines and lots of character development, a novel might be the way to go. If you have a more straightforward story that you want to tell in a concise way, a novella might be better suited. Either way, both novels, and novellas are forms of prose fiction, so it ultimately comes down to what story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.