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Novella: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 What's a Novella?
  • 0:45 Characteristics of Novellas
  • 1:37 Why Read Novellas?
  • 2:41 From Page to Screen
  • 4:13 Acclaimed Novellas
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Don't want to commit to a full-length novel but want more substance than a short story? In this lesson, learn what constitutes a novella, how they differ from their literary counterparts, and check out a few acclaimed novellas that you've most likely heard of.

What's a Novella?

The novella is a literary genre of written fiction. We can broadly say that a novella is shorter than a full-length novel but longer than a short story. They are typically about 60 to 120 pages, or 7,500 to 40,000 words. Novellas are not as popular as novels because it's a tough sell for a publishing company to charge the same price for a novella as they would for a full-length novel. Novellas are usually sold today as a single book that consists of several novellas from one author. So, they do have their place in the literary world. They've also been around since the 1300s.

Characteristics of Novellas

Of course, novellas have fewer words and pages than full-length novels. But, exactly how are they different? First off, novellas will have fewer conflicts and subplots. The main narrative will resemble more of a straight line and not veer off into complicated back stories, multiple points of view, and meandering plot lines. Novellas are also not usually divided into chapters.

The conflicts in a novella will be more complicated and better defined than in a short story. The length of a short story is not set in stone, but they are usually less than 7,500 words. Short stories and novellas are similar in that they both typically involve a single event concentrated on one character or just a few characters. Short stories will not incorporate crazy plot twists or complicated subplots, much like novellas.

Why Read Novellas?

So, with all the possible literary choices out there, the millions of different titles from thousands of different writers, why do readers select novellas? Acclaimed author Robert Silverberg describes the advantages of the novella in his anthology Sailing to Byzantium:

The novella is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it 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.

Many readers like the fact that novellas can generally be completed in one or two sittings. There's more of a developed story world to get into and live inside than in a short story without committing to the time and effort it takes to read a novel. Think about how many times you have read a novel and thought, 'Perhaps this story would have been better if it was 100 pages less or eliminated a few of these twisty subplots?'

From Page to Screen

Perhaps due to its more ideal and shorter length, novellas are often used as original source material for film adaptations. Often with full-length novels, screenplay writers have to weed through hundreds of pages of text and eliminate potentially relevant subplots and back stories to make a film that runs under the standard two hour mark.

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