Last updated

A novella is a narrative prose fiction whose length is shorter than most novels, but longer than most short stories. The English word novella derives from the Italian novella meaning a short story related to true (or apparently so) facts.



The Italian term is a feminine of novello, which means new, similarly to the English word news. [1] Merriam-Webster defines a novella as "a work of fiction intermediate in length and complexity between a short story and a novel". [1] No official definition exists regarding the number of pages or words necessary for a story to be considered a novella, a short story or a novel. [2] The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association defines a novella's word count to be between 17,500 and 40,000 words. [3] [4]


The novella as a literary genre began developing in the Italian literature of the early Renaissance, principally Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron (1353). [5] The Decameron featured 100 tales (named novellas) told by ten 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.

The Italian genre novella grew out of a rich tradition of medieval short narrative forms. It took its first major form in the anonymous late 13th century Libro di novelle et di bel parlar gentile, known as Il Novellino , and reached its culmination with The Decameron. Followers of Boccaccio such as Giovanni Fiorentino, Franco Sacchetti, Giovanni Sercambi and Simone de' Prodenzani continued the tradition into the early 15th century. The Italian novella influenced many later writers, including Shakespeare. [6]

Novellas were also written in Spain. Miguel de Cervantes book Novelas ejemplares (1613) added innovation to the genre with more attention to the depiction of human character and social background. [7]

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"). [7] 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 ]

The novella influenced the development of the short story and the novel throughout Europe. [8] In the late 19th century Henry James was one of the first English language critics to use the term novella for a story that was longer and more complex than a short story, but shorter than a novel. [7]

In English speaking countries the modern novella is rarely defined as a distinct literary genre, but is often used as a term for a short novel. [9]


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. Novellas may or may not be divided into chapters (good examples of those with chapters are Animal Farm by George Orwell and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells), and white space is often used to divide the sections, something less common in short stories. Novellas may be intended to be read at a single sitting, like short stories, and thus produce a unitary effect on the reader. [10] According to Warren Cariou, "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. [11]

Versus novel

The term novel, borrowed from the Italian novella, originally meant "any of a number of tales or stories making up a larger work; a short narrative of this type, a fable", and was then many times used in the plural, [12] reflecting the usage as in The Decameron and its followers. Usage of the more italianate novella in English seems to be a bit younger. [13] The differenciation of the two terms seems to have occurred only in the 19th century, following the new fashion of the novella in German literature. In 1834, John Lothrop Motley could still speak of "Tieck's novels (which last are a set of exquisite little tales, novels in the original meaning of the word)". [14] But when the term novella was used it was already clear that a rather short and witty form was intended: "The brief Novella has ever been a prodigious favorite with the nation…since the days of Boccaccio." [15] In 1902, William Dean Howells wrote: "Few modern fictions of the novel's dimensions…have the beauty of form many a novella embodies." [16]

Sometimes, as with other genres, the genre name is mentioned in the title of a single work (compare the Divine Comedy or Goethe's Das Märchen ). 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. This might be suggestive of the genre's historicization.[ citation needed ]

Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) [17] and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) [18] are sometimes called novels, 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, saying that "any distinctions that begin with an objective and external quality like size are bound to be misleading." [19]

Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons , a 1982 collection of four novellas, 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. [20] 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. [21]

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 "insisting that a pony is a baby horse". [22]

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". [23] 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.[ citation needed ]

Versus novelette

Dictionaries define novelette similarly to novella; sometimes identically, [24] sometimes with a disparaging sense of being trivial or sentimental. [25] Some literary awards have a longer "novella" and a shorter "novelette" category, with a distinction based on word count. Among awards, a range between 17,500 and 40,000 words is commonly used for the novella category, whereas 7,500–17,500 is commonly used for novelettes. [26] [27] [28] According to The Writer, a novelette is approximately between 7,000 and 20,000 words in length, anything shorter being considered a short story. [29]

Notable examples

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. [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35]

Novellas that appear on multiple best-of lists
AuthorTitlePublishedWord countReference
Albert Camus The Stranger 194236,750 [30] [31] [33]
Truman Capote Breakfast at Tiffany's 195826,433 [30] [31]
Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness 189938,000 [31] [33] [34] [35]
Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol 184328,500 [30] [31] [34]
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea 195226,601 [30] [33] [34] [35]
Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis 191521,810 [30] [31] [34] [35]
Richard Matheson I Am Legend 195425,204 [33] [34]
Herman Melville Billy Budd 192430,000 [31] [35]
George Orwell Animal Farm 194530,000 [30] [31] [34] [35]
John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men 193729,160 [30] [34]
Robert Louis Stevenson Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 188625,500 [30] [31]
Edith Wharton Ethan Frome 191134,500 [31] [33]

Word counts

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.

Nebula Award for Best Novelette Science fiction or fantasy Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 7,50017,499 [26]
Nebula Award for Best Novella Science fiction or fantasyScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America17,50039,999 [26]
Hugo Award for Best Novelette Science fiction or fantasyWorld Science Fiction Society7,50017,500 [27]
Hugo Award for Best Novella Science fiction or fantasyWorld Science Fiction Society17,50040,000 [27]
Novella Award Any genre of fictionScreen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts20,00040,000 [36]
RITA Award for Best Novella Romance Romance Writers of America 20,00040,000 [37]
British Fantasy Award for Novella Fantasy British Fantasy Society 15,00040,000 [38]
The Paris Literary Prize Literary fiction Shakespeare and Company 17,00035,000 [39]
Black Orchid Novella Award Mystery Nero Wolfe Society15,00020,000 [40]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette Psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy 7,50017,499 [28]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella Psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy17,50039,999 [28]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dan Simmons is an American science fiction and horror writer. He is the author of the Hyperion Cantos and the Ilium/Olympos cycles, among other works which span the science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres, sometimes within a single novel. Simmons's genre-intermingling Song of Kali (1985) won the World Fantasy Award. He also writes mysteries and thrillers, some of which feature the continuing character Joe Kurtz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Short story</span> Brief work of literature, usually written in narrative prose

A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a single effect or mood. The short story is one of the oldest types of literature and has existed in the form of legends, mythic tales, folk tales, fairy tales, tall tales, fables and anecdotes in various ancient communities around the world. The modern short story developed in the early 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Silverberg</span> American speculative fiction writer and editor (born 1935)

Robert Silverberg is an American author and editor, best known for writing science fiction. He is a multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and a Grand Master of SF. He has attended every Hugo Awards ceremony since the inaugural event in 1953.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kate Wilhelm</span> American science fiction writer (1928–2018)

Kate Wilhelm was an American author. She wrote novels and stories in the science fiction, mystery, and suspense genres, including the Hugo Award–winning Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Wilhelm established the Clarion Workshop along with her husband Damon Knight and writer Robin Scott Wilson.

Michael Lawson Bishop is an American writer. Over four decades and in more than thirty books, he has created what has been called a "body of work that stands among the most admired and influential in modern science fiction and fantasy literature."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack Dann</span> American writer

Jack Dann is an American writer best known for his science fiction, an editor and a writing teacher, who has lived in Australia since 1994. He has published over seventy books, in the majority of cases as editor or co-editor of story anthologies in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. He has published nine novels, numerous shorter works of fiction, essays and poetry and his books have been translated into thirteen languages. His work, which includes fiction in the science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism and historical and alternative history genres, has been compared to Jorge Luis Borges, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, J. G. Ballard, and Philip K. Dick.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kelly Link</span> American editor and author

Kelly Link is an American editor and author of short stories. While some of her fiction falls more clearly within genre categories, many of her stories might be described as slipstream or magic realism: a combination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and realism. Among other honors, she has won a Hugo award, three Nebula awards, and a World Fantasy Award for her fiction, and she was one of the recipients of the 2018 MacArthur "Genius" Grant.

Fiction writing is the composition of non-factual prose texts. Fictional writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or convey an author's point of view. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types of fictional writing styles. Different types of authors practice fictional writing, including novelists, playwrights, short story writers, radio dramatists and screenwriters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joe Hill (writer)</span> American writer

Joseph Hillström King, better known by the pen name Joe Hill, is an American writer. His work includes the novels Heart-Shaped Box (2007), Horns (2010), NOS4A2 (2013), and The Fireman (2016); the short story collections 20th Century Ghosts (2005) and Strange Weather (2017); and the comic book series Locke & Key (2008–2013). He has won awards including Bram Stoker Awards, British Fantasy Awards, and an Eisner Award.

<i>The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two</i> Anthology edited by Ben Bova

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two is an English language science fiction two-volume anthology edited by Ben Bova and published in the U.S. by Doubleday in 1973, distinguished as volumes "Two A" and "Two B". In the U.K. they were published by Gollancz as Volume Two (1973) and Volume Three (1974). The original U.S. subtitle was The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fiction:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fiction</span> Narrative with imaginary elements

Fiction is any creative work, chiefly any narrative work, portraying individuals, events, or places that are imaginary, or in ways that are imaginary. Fictional portrayals are thus inconsistent with history, fact, or plausibility. In a traditional narrow sense, "fiction" refers to written narratives in prose – often referring specifically to novels, novellas, and short stories. More broadly, however, fiction encompasses imaginary narratives expressed in any medium, including not just writings but also live theatrical performances, films, television programs, radio dramas, comics, role-playing games, and video games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Novel</span> Substantial work of narrative fiction

A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book. The present English word for a long work of prose fiction derives from the Italian: novella for "new", "news", or "short story of something new", itself from the Latin: novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning "new". Some novelists, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ann Radcliffe, John Cowper Powys, preferred the term "romance" to describe their novels.

Million Writers Award was a short story literary award presented annually by storySouth. It honored the best online short stories. The award was structured to be egalitarian allowing for anyone to nominate a story including readers, authors, editors and publishers; prize money was donated by readers and writers; and the winners were selected by public vote from a short-list of entries selected by judges.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slovene fiction</span>

Slovene fiction refers to narratives written in Slovene about imaginary events, predominantly in literature.

<i>Nebula Awards Showcase 2015</i>

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by American writer Greg Bear. It was first published in trade paperback by Pyr in December 2015.

<i>Nebula Awards Showcase 2000</i>

Nebula Awards Showcase 2000 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Gregory Benford. It was first published in hardcover and trade paperback by Harcourt in April 2000.

<i>Nebula Awards Showcase 2005</i> Science fiction anthology

Nebula Awards Showcase 2005 is an anthology of award-winning science fiction short works edited by American writer Jack Dann. It was first published in trade paperback by Roc/New American Library in March 2005.

<i>Nebula Awards Showcase 2013</i> 2013 anthology of science fiction short works

Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Catherine Asaro. It was first published in trade paperback by Pyr in May 2013.


  1. 1 2 "Novella – Definition". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  2. Smith, Jack (26 October 2018). "The novella: Stepping stone to success or waste of time?". The Writer. Retrieved 15 October 2020. A novella typically starts at about 20,000 words and tops out at 50,000, which is the minimum length for a short novel. There’s no mathematical exactness about this word range, but generally speaking, when a work falls a few thousand below 20,000 words, it’s a novelette, and when it falls under 7,000 words, it’s a short story. When it’s 50,000 and climbing, it’s a short novel, until it hits about 80,000 words, and then it’s a standard novel.
  3. "What's the definition of a "novella," "novelette," etc.?". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association . Archived from the original on 19 March 2009.
  4. "Word Count Separates Short Stories from Novelettes and Novellas – International Association of Professional Writers and Editors" . Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  5. "Novella: Definition and history". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  6. Nissen, Christopher The Italian Novella Oxford Bibliographies
  7. 1 2 3 Steinhauer, Harry Twelve German Novellas, Introduction, University of California Press, 1977
  8. Novella Britannica
  9. Leibowitz, Judith Narrative Purpose in the Novella, Introduction, Walter de Gruyter, 2013
  10. Kercheval, Jesse Lee (1997). "Short shorts, novellas, novel-in-stories" . Building Fiction. Cincinnati, Ohio: Story Press. ISBN   1-884910-28-9.
  11. Encyclopedia of literature in Canada. Edited by William H. New. University of Toronto, 2000. Page 835.
  12. Entry "novel, n." In: OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press. Accessed 3 April 2019.
  13. Entry "novella, n." In: OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019. Accessed 3 April 2019.
  14. Letter of 2 June 1834, in: John Lothrop Motley (1889). Correspondence. I. iii. 35.
  15. North American review25 (1827), p. 186.
  16. William Dean Howells (1902). Literature and life. New York, p. 116.
  17. Britannica
  18. Heart of Darkness Novella by Conrad Archived 9 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2 August 2015
  19. "The Sweetness of Short Novels Archived 4 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine " by Ingrid Norton Archived 8 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine , Open Letters Monthly February 2010
  20. King, Stephen (1982). Different Seasons . Viking Adult. ISBN   978-0-670-27266-2.
  21. Silverberg, Robert (2000). Sailing to Byzantium . New York: ibooks, inc. ISBN   0-7861-9905-9.
  22. Fetherling, George. "Briefly, the case for the novella". Seven Oaks Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  23. "Ian McEwan claims the novella is better than the novel" . The Telegraph. No. HOME»CULTURE»BOOKS»BOOK NEWS. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Telegraph Media Group Limited. 15 October 2012. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  24. American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.): "novella (2)", "novelette"; Merriam-Webster : novelette.
  25. Collins Dictionary : "novella (2)", "novelette (2)"; Macmillan Dictionary (US ed.): "novella", "novelette"; Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (UK ed.): "novella", "novelette"; Concise Oxford English Dictionary : "novella", "novelette"; Webster's New World Dictionary : "novella", "novelette".
  26. 1 2 3 "Nebula Rules". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Awards.
  27. 1 2 3 "Constitution" (PDF). World Science Fiction Society. 2009. pp. sec 3.3.2, 3.3.3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  28. 1 2 3 "Award Rules". Shirley Jackson Awards. Archived from the original on 12 January 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  29. Smith, Jack (26 October 2018). "The novella: Stepping stone to success or waste of time?". The Writer. Retrieved 15 October 2020. A novella typically starts at about 20,000 words and tops out at 50,000, which is the minimum length for a short novel. There’s no mathematical exactness about this word range, but generally speaking, when a work falls a few thousand below 20,000 words, it’s a novelette, and when it falls under 7,000 words, it’s a short story. When it’s 50,000 and climbing, it’s a short novel, until it hits about 80,000 words, and then it’s a standard novel.
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Top 10 Novellas". The Novella Award. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "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.
  32. "The Rail's Best Books of 2017". The Brooklyn Rail . 13 December 2017.
  33. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Carswell, Beth (2012). "The Best Novellas: Literature's Middle Child". AbeBooks. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Thorsson, Johann (18 June 2012). "The World's Best Novellas". On Books & Writing. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Haber, Gordon (29 June 2015). "The 20 Best Novellas Ever Published in the History of Humankind". Thought Catalog. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  36. "Submission guidelines". 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  37. "RITA Awards : RITA Category Descriptions and Judging Guidelines". myRWA. Romance Writers of America. Archived from the original on 18 January 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  38. "The British Fantasy Awards Constitution". British Fantasy Society. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  39. "Eligibility and conditions". Paris Literary Prize. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  40. "Black Orchid Novella Award Guidelines, Procedures, and FAQs". Wolfe Pack. Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.

Further reading