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A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000. Other definitions start as low as 10,000 words and run as high as 70,000 words.

Although the novella is a common literary genre in several European languages, it is less common in English. English-speaking readers may be most familiar with the novellas of John Steinbeck, particularly Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Novelle (plural of novella) also appear in television form as telenovelle.

Jack Kerouac has written many novellas such as Pic, Tristessa, The Subterraneans, and Satori in Paris. Most of the best-known works of H. P. Lovecraft are novellas, including The Shadow out of Time, The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Like the English word "novel", the English word "novella" is derived from the Italian word "novella" (plural: "novelle"), for a tale, a piece of news. As the etymology suggests, novellas originally were news of town and country life worth repeating for amusement and edification.


A novella has generally fewer conflicts than novels, yet more complicated ones than short stories.. The conflicts also have more time to develop. They have endings that are located at the brink of change. Unlike novels, they are not divided into chapters, and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as the short story, although white space is often used to divide the sections. They maintain, therefore, a single effect. Warren Cariou wrote:

The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the short 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 psychological 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.


The idea of serialized novellas dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, from around the 10th century. The novella as a literary genre later began developing in the early Renaissance literary work of the Italians and the Frenchmarker. Principally, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), author of The Decameron (1353)—one hundred novelle told by ten people, seven women and three men, fleeing the Black Death by escaping from Florencemarker to the Fiesole hills, in 1348; and by the French Queen, Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549), [aka Marguerite de Valois, et. alii.], author of Heptaméron (1559)—seventy-two original French tales (structured like The Decameron).

Not until the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries did writers fashion the novella into a literary genre structured by precepts and rules. Contemporaneously, the Germansmarker were the most active writers of the Novelle (German: "Novelle"; plural: "Novellen"). 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 narration's steady point. They are still famous now.

Novella versus novel

See the article novel for the historical generic debate.
See the article Length of a novel for comparative word counts.

German uses the word Novelle for "novella" to distinguish this prose form from Kurzgeschichte ("short story") and Roman ("novel"). In Dutch, the word for "novella" is novelle and the word for "novel" is Roman. In Portuguese, the word for "novella" is "novela" and the word for "novel" is "romance". In French "novella" is nouvelle (but a "nouvelle" is actually a short story, not a novella) or, maybe better, "récit" - and "novel" is roman; in Italian too "short story" is novella and "novel" is romanzo, while "novella" rather corresponds to romanzo breve. In Romanian "novella" is nuvelǎ and "novel" is roman. In Swedish "short story" is novell and "novel" is roman, while "novella" is kortroman, literally meaning "short novel". In Danish and Norwegian"novella"/"short story" is novelle and "novel" is roman. In Finnish "short story" is novelli and "novel" is romaani. In Russian, novella is "povest" (повесть), while "novel" is "roman" (роман); short story is "rasskaz" (рассказ) and it is the extremely brief form that is called "novella" ('новелла'). In Polish "short story" is opowiadanie, "novella" is "nowela" and "novel" is powieść. This etymological distinction avoids confusion of the literatures and the forms, with the novel being the more important, established fictional form. The Austrianmarker writer Stefan Zweig's (1881–1942) 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; Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Heart of Darkness are sometimes called novels, as are many science fiction works such as The War of the Worlds and Armageddon 2419 A.D. 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.

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"; 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.

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."

See also


  1. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Awards FAQ. (Accessed 16 May 2009)
  2. Romance Writers of America Contest Rules (Accessed 17 Sept 2009)
  3. Parsec Awards Category Definitions (Accessed 17 Sept 2009)
  4. British Fantasy Awards Constitution (Accessed 17 Sept 2009)
  5. Encyclopedia of literature in Canada. Edited by William H. New. University of Toronto, 2000. Page 835.
  6. King, Stephen. Different Seasons. Viking Adult, 1982. ISBN 978-0670272662
  7. Silverberg, Robert. Sailing to Byzantium. New York: ibooks, inc., 2000. ISBN 0786199059
  8. Fetherling, George. Briefly, the case for the novella.

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