Contrary to what my brother thinks, a novella is not a fancy term for a romance novel (sorry, Thomas).
Nor is it a Spanish vampire book.
In short, a novella is, well… a short novel. Maybe that doesn’t sound as exciting as a Spanish romance novel; however, novellas are pretty exciting in the literary world.
Today we’re going to talk about novellas and hopefully, together we will learn something new about them! (:
What is a novella?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a novella is a short novel or a long short story.
And there you have it. That’s all folks.
There is still a lot more to a novella than the Oxford Dictionary’s definition, so let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
The novella began to develop as a literary genre during the early Renaissance (circa 1300). The first example was Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. It was a collection of novellas that consisted of 100 tales told by a group of people outside of Florence trying to escape the Black Death.
Novellas are intended to be read in one setting, so they are generally between 20,000-50,000 words, which is anywhere from an 80-160 page book. With so many 500+ page novels out there, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to tell a compelling story in such few words. Let’s just say, the phrase every word counts is vital in this situation. If you want to read more about novellas from an author’s perspective, check out Ian McEwan’s article from The New Yorker. It’s a good one!
Because the author has a word limit, the structure of the story is different from those novels that are thick enough to be used as a doorstop. Typically, there are fewer conflicts presented in the story. While novels tend to have multiple subplots thrown into the mix, a novella might only feature one.
Now that we’ve learned a little bit more about the novella, let’s end this post by looking at some examples!
- Animal Farm – George Orwell: A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens: The story of Ebenezer Scrooge opens on a Christmas Eve as cold as Scrooge’s own heart. That night, he receives three ghostly visitors: the terrifying spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Each takes him on a heart-stopping journey, yielding glimpses of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, the horrifying specters of Want and Ignorance, even Scrooge’s painfully hopeful younger self. Will Scrooge’s heart be opened? Can he reverse the miserable future he is forced to see?
- The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm, it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.
- The Dead – James Joyce: Often cited as the best work of short fiction ever written, Joyce’s elegant story details a New Year’s Eve gathering in Dublin that is so evocative and beautiful that it prompts the protagonist’s wife to make a shocking revelation to her husband—closing the story with an emotionally powerful epiphany that is unsurpassed in modern literature.
- Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes: With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?