Over at the Telegraph Short Story Club, Louise Doughty has been talking about short novels and novellas. Various works have been mentioned and measured, but what makes something a novella rather than a short novel? And what is a novelette (I long for it to involve eggs and a frying pan. And paper napkins)? It can’t all be down to length – I have read short stories by Stephen King longer than some people’s novels. I have seen novellas as short as a (long) short story. Someone suggested it’s down to marketing – if a publisher’s happy to promote it on its own, it’s a novel. Which leads to two questions.
The first is: What happens with self-published e-books? It can be as short as you like, and as long as the story feels satisfying and the reader doesn’t feel like they’ve been overcharged, does it matter how it’s classified? Will there be more ‘short novels’ where once they may have been padded to reach some acceptable wordcount, or cast aside as too short to bother with? And might we find the time to read more, from a wider pool of authors, that way?
The second is: Is there something about a story, its structure or content that makes it a novella rather than a novel? If you read two books of 125 pages, could you confidently say one was a novel that was a touch on the short side, and the other was a full-blown novella? I ventured (knowing next to nothing about it) that subplots or the lack thereof may come into it. I wondered if the novella may be intermediate in complexity and cast-list, between the short story and the novel (again, what about that novelette?).
I wonder further if any of this matters, to the writer? Unless you’re an author with an agent, who has to think in terms of pitching your new work to an audience, do you (should you?) think about the length of a story before you sit down to begin? Do you sit at your desk thinking ‘I fancy a novella this time’ or do you conjure a world, a character, a scene and find within that the kernel of the story that will let you know how long it needs to be? Perhaps that’s only an insight into my chaotic creativity.
Thoughts on the topic would be most welcome. Or if anyone has a recipe for a nourishing novelette.