When is a novella not a novella and when is it a novel?


At the start of the year, I decided to have a go at writing a novella. I’d had an idea which was way too big to fit into a short story, but wasn’t (to my mind) meaty enough to become a proper novel.

Yesterday, I finished a very rough first draft. It’s slightly shy of 40,000 words. And even as I tell myself to put it to one side for a while and move onto another project, I’m already aware of missing scenes, unresolved plot points, and characters which require further development. Of course, the first edit will probably mean words are lost too. I’ve not yet gone back and read over any of it, but experience suggests there’s likely to be lots that needs cutting. Nonetheless, it strikes me that there’s an awful lot more to add too.

So, perhaps it will end up being nearer 50,000 words by draft #2. If this is the case, I suspect it will no longer be considered a novella. From a brief trawl of various websites, novellas look to be considered to be less than 40,000 words, but it’s safe to say that the distinction is quite blurry. Take these famous examples of novels which, though short, are still considered to be novels:

  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway, 26,601
  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck, 29,160
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell, 29,966
  • The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes, 43,869
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, 46,118
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams, 46,333
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 47,094

Perhaps then we shouldn’t look at word count alone, but also the relative weight of the book’s theme. In the list above, there are plenty which have been “set texts” for English courses, and which are considered quality literature. I suspect mine won’t have quite this level of literary merit!

The most important thing though for me is that, whether novella or novel, when finished it is the right length for the story being told. I’ll have a better idea of that when I get to the end of the second draft.

I’ll keep you posted!

2 responses »

  1. I’m a firm believer that stories have there own length and trying to force them into a longer or shorter overcoat simply will not work. Good luck with your story – and if it becomes a novel then let it!

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