9 January 2012

Genre: Novellas

My reviews this week are of two novella collections, which made me wonder: what, exactly, is a novella? A visit to trusty Wikipedia shows that this is a topic for debate.  It is generally agreed that a novella is shorter than a novel and longer than a novelette or short story, but there is no clear definition of exact word counts.

Many famous works of English fiction are actually novellas, including Animal Farm (George Orwell), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote), A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stephenson).  A novelette is (by definition, perhaps) shorter than a novella, but longer than a short story. 

According to Wikipedia, a novella has fewer conflicts than a novel, lacks multiple points of view and does not have chapters.  Well, the novellas I have read certainly all have chapters, and most also tell the story from more than one point of view, so this is obviously not a universal definition. Perhaps the important definition is that of word count, as that is typically the distinction between a novel and a novella in a literary competition. The Romance Writers of America RITA Awards define a novella as between 20,000 and 40,000 words, while the Christy Awards (for Christian fiction) do not have a separate category for novellas.

Christian novels are generally between 90,000 and 120,000 words long, with a definite preference for works to be at the lower end of that scale (Christian romance novels seldom exceed 100,000 words).  Love Inspired novels are around 60,000 words, while Love Inspired Historical novels are 75,000.  Longer novels are published, but generally only from established authors (e.g. Francine Rivers).  My assumption is that this is because the additional printing cost cuts into profit, as most novels are priced at US$12.99 to $US14.99 and the consumer appears unwilling to pay extra simply because the book is longer.  Note that these figures only apply to adult fiction: young adult novels can apparently be as short as 16,000 words, with a typical maximum of 50,000.

There are varying definitions of length for a short story, with a general minimum of 1,000 words, and a maximum ranging from 7,500 to 20,000 words, depending on which source you look at. The idea of a short story is that it can be read in one sitting, but on a rainy day I can easily read a full-length novel in one sitting so this might not be the best indicator! A story shorter than 1,000 words is, apparently, a short-short story.

I recently came across an even shorter literary form: a drabble. A drabble is an extremely short work of fiction, being exactly 100 words long, originating in the 1980’s in UK fan fiction. Wikipedia also mentions nanofiction, microfiction and flash fiction, all exactly 55 words long.  As a work of fiction, a drabble and nanofiction must have all the constituent parts of fiction: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. Hard enough to fit into 100 words, even harder to fit into just 55!

P.S. If you are interested in word counts, have a look at these posts from two well-known literary agents:
Colleen Lindsay
Rachelle Gardner (2009 post)
Rachelle Gardner (2008 post)

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