From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the literary form. For other uses, see Novella (disambiguation).

A novella is a work of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The English word "novella" derives from the Italian novella, feminine of novello, which means "new".[1] The novella is a common literary genre in several European languages.


The novella as a literary genre began developing in the early Renaissance by the Italian and French literatura, principally Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron (1353).[2] The Decameron featured 100 tales (novellas) told by 10 people (seven women and three men) fleeing the Black Death, by escaping from Florence to the Fiesole hills in 1348. This structure was then imitated by subsequent authors, notably the French queen Marguerite de Navarre, whose Heptaméron (1559) included 72 original French tales and was modeled after the structure of The Decameron.

Not until the late 18th and early 19th centuries did writers fashion the novella into a literary genre structured by precepts and rules, generally in a realistic mode. At that time, the Germans were the most active writers of the novelle (German: "Novelle"; plural: "Novellen").[citation needed] For the German writer, a novella is a fictional narrative of indeterminate length—a few pages to hundreds—restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (wendepunkt), provoking a logical but surprising end. Novellen tend to contain a concrete symbol, which is the narrative's focal point.[citation needed]


A novella generally features fewer conflicts than a novel, yet more complicated ones than a short story. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. Unlike novels, novellas are usually not divided into chapters and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as is the short story, although in a novella white space is often used to divide the sections, and therefore, the novella maintains a single effect.[3] Warren Cariou wrote:

The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the long story and the novel can be, and it usually lacks the subplots, the multiple points of view, and the generic adaptability that are common in the novel. It is most often concerned with personal and emotional development rather than with the larger social sphere. The novella generally retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description.[4]

Versus novel[edit]

See the article Novel for the historical generic debate.
See the article Word count for comparative word counts.

This etymological distinction avoids confusion of the literatures and the forms, with the novel being the more important, established fictional form.[citation needed] Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's Die Schachnovelle (1942) (literally, "The Chess Novella", but translated in 1944 as The Royal Game) is an example of a title naming its genre.

Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) are sometimes called novels,[by whom?] as are many science fiction works such as H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1897) and Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D. (1928). Less often, longer works are referred to as novellas. The subjectivity of the parameters of the novella genre is indicative of its shifting and diverse nature as an art form.[citation needed] In her 2010 Open Letters Monthly series, "A Year With Short Novels", Ingrid Norton criticizes the tendency to make clear demarcations based purely on a book's length:

Google "novels" and "length" and you will find tables of word counts, separating out novels from novellas, even from the esoteric and still shorter "novelette"—as though prose works were dog show contestants, needing to be entered into proper categories. But when it comes to writing, any distinctions that begin with an objective and external quality like size are bound to be misleading. The delicate, gem-like jigsaw of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Ray [sic] could not be more unlike the feverishly cunning philosophical monologue of Albert Camus' The Fall, but both novels are about the same length.[5]

Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic";[6] King notes the difficulties of selling a novella in the commercial publishing world, since it does not fit the typical length requirements of either magazine or book publishers. Despite these problems, however, the novella's length provides unique advantages; in the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes:

[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.[7]

In his essay, "Briefly, the case for the novella", Canadian author George Fetherling (who wrote the novella Tales of Two Cities) said that to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like "saying a pony is a baby horse".[8]

The sometimes blurry definition between a novel and a novella can create controversy, as was the case with British writer Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (2007). The author described it as a novella, but the panel for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 qualified the book as a "short novel".[9] Thus, this "novella" was shortlisted for an award for best original novel. A similar case is found with a much older work of fiction: The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London. This book, by modern standards, is short enough and straightforward enough to qualify as a novella. However, historically, it has been regarded as a novel and hence it will continue to be regarded as such until someone makes a definitive case otherwise.[citation needed]

Versus novelette[edit]

Dictionaries define novelette similarly to novella; sometimes identically,[10] sometimes with a disparaging sense of being trivial or sentimental.[11] Some literary awards have a longer "novella" and a shorter "novelette" categories, with a distinction based on word count.[12][13][14]

Notable examples[edit]

This list contains those novellas that are widely considered to be the best examples of the genre, through their appearance on multiple best-of lists.[15][16][17][18][19] See list of novellas for other notable examples.

Novellas that appear on multiple best-of lists
Title Author Published Reference
Animal Farm Orwell, GeorgeGeorge Orwell 1945 [15][16][18][19]
Billy Budd Melville, HermanHerman Melville 1924 [16][19]
Breakfast at Tiffany's Capote, TrumanTruman Capote 1958 [15][16]
A Christmas Carol Dickens, CharlesCharles Dickens 1843 [15][16][18]
A Clockwork Orange Burgess, AnthonyAnthony Burgess 1962 [15][17]
Ethan Frome Wharton, EdithEdith Wharton 1911 [16][17]
Goodbye, Columbus Roth, PhilipPhilip Roth 1959 [17][19]
Heart of Darkness Conrad, JosephJoseph Conrad 1899 [16][17][18][19]
I Am Legend Matheson, RichardRichard Matheson 1954 [17][18]
The Metamorphosis Kafka, FranzFranz Kafka 1915 [15][16][18][19]
Of Mice and Men Steinbeck, JohnJohn Steinbeck 1937 [15][18]
The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway, ErnestErnest Hemingway 1952 [15][17][18][19]
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Stevenson, Robert LouisRobert Louis Stevenson 1886 [15][16]
The Stranger Camus, AlbertAlbert Camus 1942 [15][16][17]
The War of the Worlds Wells, H. G.H. G. Wells 1898 [16][19]

Word counts[edit]

Some literary awards include a "best novella" award and sometimes a separate "best novelette" award, separately from "best short story" or "best novel". The distinction between these categories may be entirely by word count.

Award Genre Organisation Minimum Maximum Ref
Nebula Award for Best Novelette science fiction or fantasy Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 7,500 17,499 [12]
Nebula Award for Best Novella science fiction or fantasy Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 17,500 39,999 [12]
Hugo Award for Best Novelette science fiction or fantasy World Science Fiction Society 7,500 17,500 [13]
Hugo Award for Best Novella science fiction or fantasy World Science Fiction Society 17,500 40,000 [13]
Novella Award any genre of fiction Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts 20,000 40,000 [20]
RITA Award for Best Novella romance Romance Writers of America 20,000 40,000 [21]
British Fantasy Award for Novella fantasy British Fantasy Society 15,000 40,000 [22]
The Paris Literary Prize literary fiction Shakespeare and Company 17,000 35,000 [23]
Black Orchid Novella Award mystery Nero Wolfe Society 15,000 20,000 [24]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy 7,500 17,499 [14]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy 17,500 39,999 [14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Novella - Definition". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  2. ^ "Novella: Definition and history". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Kercheval, Jesse Lee (1997). "Short shorts, novellas, novel-in-stories". Building Fiction. Cincinnati, Ohio: Story Press. ISBN 1-884910-28-9. 
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of literature in Canada. Edited by William H. New. University of Toronto, 2000. Page 835.
  5. ^ "The Sweetness of Short Novels" by Ingrid Norton, Open Letters Monthly February 2010
  6. ^ King, Stephen (1982). Different Seasons. Viking Adult. ISBN 978-0-670-27266-2. 
  7. ^ Silverberg, Robert (2000). Sailing to Byzantium. New York: ibooks, inc. ISBN 0-7861-9905-9. 
  8. ^ Fetherling, George. "Briefly, the case for the novella". Seven Oaks Magazine. 
  9. ^ "Ian McEwan claims the novella is better than the novel". The Telegraph (HOME»CULTURE»BOOKS»BOOK NEWS). Telegraph Media Group Limited. Telegraph Media Group Limited. 15 Oct 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  10. ^ American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.): novella (2), novelette; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: novelette;
  11. ^ Collins Dictionary: novella (2), novelette (2); Macmillan Dictionary (US ed.): novella, novelette; Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (UK ed.): novella, novelette; novelette]; Concise Oxford English Dictionary: novella, novelette; Webster's New World Dictionary: novella, novelette;
  12. ^ a b c "Nebula Rules". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Awards. 
  13. ^ a b c "Constitution" (PDF). World Science Fiction Society. 2009. pp. sec 3.3.2, 3.3.3. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c "Award Rules". Shirley Jackson Awards. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Top 10 Novellas". The Novella Award. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "These Amazing Classic Books Are So Short You Have No Excuse Not To Read Them". The Huffington Post. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 22 May 2016. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Carswell, Beth (2012). "The Best Novellas: Literature's Middle Child". AbeBooks. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Thorsson, Johann (18 June 2012). "The World's Best Novellas". On Books & Writing. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Haber, Gordon (29 June 2015). "The 20 Best Novellas Ever Published In The History Of Humankind". Thought Catalog. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  20. ^ "Submission guidelines". 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  21. ^ "RITA Awards : RITA Category Descriptions and Judging Guidelines". myRWA. Romance Writers of America. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  22. ^ "The British Fantasy Awards Constitution". British Fantasy Society. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  23. ^ "Eligibility and conditions". Paris Literary Prize. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  24. ^ "Black Orchid Novella Award Guidelines, Procedures, and FAQs". Wolfe Pack. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]