Novellas: Why write them? Why read them?

As you already know if you’re a regular follower of my blog, I’m getting my novella, “The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg”, published in The Fantasist (though later than expected due to unforeseen delays). I’m really excited about it, so it’s a little annoying that when I tell my less bookish friends and acquaintances, their response is often “What’s a novella?”

To spare us all some potential embarrassment, I’ll just casually mention that a novella is a piece of fiction, somewhere between a short story and a novel in length. They are roughly 18,000-40,000 words.

Novellas are the overlooked middle children of the literary world. Novels are where the money’s at. They are the bestsellers and blockbusters. People queue up at midnight to get their hands on some of them. And short stories, nestled securely in literary magazines and winning prestigious prizes, generally get the respect they deserve.

So why aren’t more writers working on novellas? Why don’t these compact little books get the marketing attention that weightier tomes have? I’m a huge fan of novellas – from “The Call of the Wild” to “On Chesil Beach” and here are my reasons for writing and reading them.

Why write them?

  • Sometimes a novella is the perfect length for a project. If you have a storyline that is fairly slight, it may not be enough to sustain a novel, but could be just right for a novella. Novellas can also be great for stories that take place over limited timelines. “The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg” takes place over one night and one morning (plus a lot of flashbacks) and there just wasn’t enough narrative space to make it into a novel.
  • Writing a novella can be an ideal palate cleanser between bigger projects. If you’re writing a series of chunky, epic fantasy novels, writing a breezy, 20,000 word novella in between them could seem almost restful!
  • A novella could also be the perfect project for NaNoWriMo. Okay, so the goal is to write 50,000 words. But come on, what the hell is that? It’s too long for a novella, and most publishers would consider it too short for a novel. Realistically, it’s two thirds of a short novel or half of a long one. Instead of devoting the whole of November to manically writing half a first draft, why not dedicate it to writing a complete first draft of, say, a 30,000 word novella? More satisfying and less exhausting.

Why read them?

  • If you’re in a reading slump, novellas are ideal for pulling you out of it. When big, fat books look unappealing, an easily digestible novella can sharpen your appetite for books once again.
  • Novellas are useful books when it comes to taking a risk. If you’re not sure about a particular author, or you feel like trying a new genre, you may not want to commit to a long read. But a novella is less intimidating, and sometimes cheaper.
  • The best thing about novellas is that they are absolutely perfect for binge-reading. You can often finish one in an afternoon, or an evening. You can start one after dinner, read until you’re done, then look at the clock and realise it’s not 2am!

One thought on “Novellas: Why write them? Why read them?

  1. Thanks for championing this underrated narrative form! Another advantage the novella offers is sequence potential. I wrote a science fiction epic across six novelle rather than the typical tome–like episodes in a literary miniseries–and it kept the story brisk. I’d love to see a novella renaissance.

    Liked by 1 person

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