The word “novella” comes from the Italian meaning “new.” The first novellas were developed in early Italian literature with Giovanni Boccaccio, the author of the famed Decameron, published in 1353. In it, Boccaccio takes on a structure similar to Milton’s Canterbury Tales. The book is made up of ten novellas, or separate short tales, told by ten different people fleeing the Black Death. This new structure was used by writers around the world.
Definition and Explanation of Novellas
Novellas are short, well-structured stories that are longer than novels but shorter than short stories. They usually focus on one incident or place with one or two characters. The story is likely satiric or realistic in tone. Although novellas are generally considered to be short novels, there is no standard page number they have to conform to. Usually, they are between 17,500 and 40,000 words, as defined by Writers in America. Some of the best examples of novellas are those which can be read in a single sitting, like Animal Farm by George Orwell. Some longer novellas are sometimes called novels due to the undefined rules for what is or is not a novella.
Why Do Writers Write Novellas?
Writers turn to the genre of the novella in order to focus on one element of a story, character, or theme. Unlike novels, novellas allow the writer to fully expand a character, illuminating each aspect of their personality, and life for the reader. Novellas also do not have the same structural demands as novels do. This means that writers don’t need to worry about the traditional structure of rising action, climax, etc. Their focus can stay on the most interesting parts of their story, never wavering into territory that might be deemed extraneous.
Examples of Novellas
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and is considered to be one of the most famous novellas ever written. Charles Marlow narrates the book, detailing a voyage along the Congo River into the Congo Free State. Onboard the Nelle, Marlow travels to meet Kurtz, an idealistic ivory trader with whom the narrator is obsessed. While traveling, he comes upon the native people many of whom have been forced to labor for the Company. Their suffering, and the cruelly of the whole enterprise, is juxtaposed against the open beauty of the jungle. Tragedy soon befalls the narrator onboard a steamship with Kurtz who falls ill and dies. It was originally issued as a three-part serial story in Blackwood’s Magazine.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw is a horror novella written by Henry James in 1898. It was first published in Collier’s Weekly magazine in serial format. The novella focuses on a governess caring for two children on an estate she soon begins to believe is haunted. The story has undergone much scrutiny from critiques who have tried to determine what kind of evil presence is supposedly haunting the grounds. It’s filled with confusion and suspense that has attracted readers over the decades since its publication. The story is reminiscent of gothic fiction and is far from the typical ghost story.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol, also known as A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was published by Charles Dickens in 1843. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an unhappy old man who cares only for the money he makes on a day to day basis. He’s visited by the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, and informed that he’s going to be haunted by three more ghosts, all of whom are trying to save him from Marley’s fate. The first edition of the novella sold out by Christmas Eve and has since become a classic of the period and the holiday.
How to Write a Novella
Novellas are a literary genre all their own, but they do have certain similarities to novels. This means that when writing you’ll have to create compelling characters, usually just one or two, and make the reader care about them in a short period of time. Often, novellas focus on a single person, someone who is experiencing an important period in their life or some kind of upheaval that’s interesting to read about. It’s crucial that this person is engaging enough to carry 60-100 pages of text and keep the reader’s attention the whole time. Additionally, it’s important, as a writer, that you understand who this character is. This means having a comprehensive understanding of what they’re thinking, how they’re talking, and what they’d do in any situation.
The main plot of your novella should not wander. Due to the fact that these stories are much shorter than normal novels, it’s critical that you stay on track and know where the character is headed, how their relationships will develop, and how the story is going to end. This is where the structure of the events comes in. As always, once you’ve written a draft of your novella it’s important to read it, edit it, and repeat. At this point, you’re probably ready to share it with someone and perhaps even have it published.
Novella or Novel?
Novels are full-length books that explore multiple conflicts, develop a number of different characters, and usually cover a longer period of time than a novella does. The latter is usually centered around one or two people and a singular event or issue that they have to deal with. Novellas move much faster than novels do, usually due to the fact that the action is continual without any deviations into subplots or vignettes.
Types of Novellas
- Literary Novella: This kind of novella explores characters in-depth and ignores broader plotlines that feature in novels. For example, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
- Inspirational Novella: These are uplifting stories aimed at readers of all ages. For example, The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
- Genre Novella: These novellas include several subcategories, such as supernatural and horror. They are stories of a brief period in time, sometimes sensational and always suspenseful in nature. For example, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Related Literary Devices
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Characterization: the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Dialogue: a literary technique that is concerned with conversations held between two or more characters.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Read: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- Read: World’s Greatest Novellas
- Watch: How to Write a Novella
- Watch: 4 Reasons Why Authors Write Novellas