The Novella - Don't Sell It Short

The Novella – Don’t Sell It Short

I’m excited! I’ve just started on a new project – writing a novella. The novella, the novel’s little brother, has traditionally been overshadowed by its larger sibling, but is now coming into its own. And I want to be part of it!  The fact that I only have to write around 40 000 words, 50 000 maximum,  may also have a teeny bit to do with it. I wrote about my decision to write a novella in this post almost 2 years ago – doesn’t time fly when you’re procrastinating!

Prior to the popularity of e-books, the novella was rejected or outright ignored by publishers. Because of its brevity it wasn’t considered commercially viable to publish. The only people who published novellas were famous writers such as Ian McEwan (The Cement Garden, On Chesil Beach) Phillip Roth (The Dying Animal, Goodbye Colombus) and Stephen King (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption), all of whom could turn their shopping list into a novella and it would sell. No wonder the poor novella has been in hiding with its tail between its legs, muttering, ‘So what if I’m short?  What about Michael J Fox?’

This does seem strange, considering that many great writers have written at least one novella and many fiction classics are novellas, such as Animal Farm by George Orwell, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few. If you want to know more, there’s a list of the World’s Greatest Novellas on Goodreads – all 390 of them.

Nowadays with digital publishing the length of the book is immaterial with regard to cost – it can be 60 pages or 600. Indie authors can churn out two or three novellas in a year; the more books they publish, the greater their presence in the marketplace and consequently the more they sell. Some authors write novellas in between novels just for a change of pace. And with the busyness of modern life, many readers prefer shorter works of fiction they can read in a morning or an afternoon, or on the train to and from work.

So the novella is now gathering its own fan club, including Ian McEwan. In an article written for the New Yorker, he says,’I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days).’

I like that metaphor – I think we’ve all struggled through a rambling, bloated giant of a novel, that would have lost none of its impact with a couple of hundred pages chopped out. And I rather like the idea, if anyone asks what I’m writing, of replying, ‘a beautiful daughter.’

Now you may be of the opinion that  my decision to write a novella instead of a novel is due to nothing more than plain old-fashioned laziness. Ok, I admit that every time I sit down to write I have an overwhelming compulsion to go and curl up on the couch with a book and a block of chocolate. But most of the time, I manage to fight it off. (When I do succumb, it’s ‘research’).

And  it’s a mistake to think that  because a novella is shorter than a novel it’s easier to write.  If anything, it’s harder. The novella still has to have a plot, albeit simpler than a novel, a main character who undergoes some sort of change and a resolution at the end. The art of being able to say a lot in a few words is essential – you can’t afford long descriptions, character analysis or pages of backstory. You have to get right to the point in every scene.

As Ian McEwan puts it, ‘the demands of economy push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focussed on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness.’

Whew!  Sounds intense. Where’s that chocolate?

Have you written a novella, or intend to write one? Or read one that you really enjoyed? Please share it with us in the comments below.

About the Author Robin Storey

Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.

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2 comments
CW Hawes says February 25, 2015

I agree, the novella is a great form for writers. I have 5 I’ve written. One is a stand alone horror tale, three form the second book in my mystery series, and the fifth is the start of another post-apocalyptic series. And there are lots of good novellas indie authors are turning out. I just read one over the weekend by English author Erik Ga Bean, A Trifle Airship.

For readers and writers, especially today when time seems so limited, novellas can fill in that short time gap in a way that is just a wee bit more satisfying than a short story.

Reply
    Robin Storey says February 25, 2015

    Thanks for your comment – I’m really enjoying the challenge of writing a story in such a short form that still incorporates all the elements of good storytelling and is satisfying to the reader. I anticipate lots of editing!

    Reply
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