What is a Novella?: Novella Examples & Characteristics

Marla Alupoaicei, Ann Casano
  • Author
    Marla Alupoaicei

    Marla Alupoaicei is a published author, educator and speaker who has taught high school English for many years in Christian and public schools. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Communications from Purdue University and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

  • Instructor
    Ann Casano

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

What is a novella? Learn the novella description and see novella examples. Also compare short story vs novella and see how a novella compares to other writings.

Table of Contents


What is a Novella?

What is the meaning of the term "novella"? The definition of a novella is "a narrative work of fiction that is shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story." Fiction is literature in the form of prose that describes imaginary events and people. The English term "novella" is drawn from the Italian word "novella," the feminine form of the word "novello," which means "new." A novella is a narrative work of fiction that is intermediate in length and complexity between a short story and a novel.

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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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A novella is shorter than a novel and typically can be read in one sitting.

What is a novella, novel, girl reading, novella examples and characteristics

Characteristics of a Novella

Novellas possess several defining characteristics that set them apart from other works of literature. Here are some of the characteristics of a novella.

A novella:

  • is a narrative work of fiction.
  • is written in prose (ordinary form) rather than in metrical form, as with poetry.
  • can be read in one or two sittings.
  • has fewer conflicts and subplots than a full-length novel.
  • usually is not divided into chapters.
  • averages between 60-120 pages in length.
  • typically is between 17,500 and 40,000 words.
  • may be published digitally or in print.
  • typically focuses on a single plotline.
  • usually centers on one (or a few) main character(s).
  • is more complex than shorter works such as a short story, but is less complex than a full-length novel.


Novellas are works of fiction, meaning that they utilize imaginary characters and events to tell a story, rather than real people and events. In contrast, nonfiction books tell the story of real people and historical, true events.


How many pages is a novella? Typically, a novella is around 100 pages long in print form, but it may be anywhere from 60-120 pages in length. The word count can vary from 17,500 to 40,000 words. A fictional work of over 40,000 words is considered a full-length novel. Novellas are longer than short stories, but shorter than full-length novels.


Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, one of the most popular novellas in American literature.

Novella, bestselling novellas, The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway author writer

Because a novella is shorter than a novel, the plotline of a novella generally involves one principal or leading character (also called the protagonist). The term protagonist is drawn from a Greek word meaning "actor who plays the first part." Usually, the protagonist is the hero or heroine of the story, and the plot relies heavily on the actions, words and character development of the protagonist.

In novellas, as well as other types of literature, the protagonist typically is involved in some sort of conflict with one or more person, animal, or force (like nature) that stands between the main character and his or her goal. This person or force is called the antagonist, which is literally translated from Greek as "actor who contends with." This means that the antagonist works against the protagonist. In some cases, the antagonist is the enemy of the protagonist, or the villain of the story.

In the case of a novella like "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway, the primary character (protagonist) is Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman. The beautifully crafted novella centers on one man's epic battle for survival as he struggles to bring in the catch of his life (a huge marlin fish). It takes Santiago three full days to wear the fish down enough to kill it. The fish is so large that Santiago has to lash it to his boat in order to bring it back toward shore. On the way, sharks eat most of the marlin's flesh. Yet Santiago is determined to get the fish to shore. Santiago faces several antagonists in this novella: the fish, the sharks, the sea, and nature itself, as he fights for his life.


In a novella, sharp focus is put on the main character or characters. In most cases, the primary character faces a particular conflict that is developed and reaches some type of resolution by the end of the novella. In our previous example of "The Old Man and the Sea," the old man (Santiago) is the main character, or protagonist. His character is developed as he battles his antagonists: the marlin fish, the sharks, the sea, and nature herself.

In literature, the antagonist is the force or individual that stands between the protagonist and his or her goal. In this story, the marlin is one of the antagonists, as it acts in direct opposition to Santiago. The fisherman wants to capture the fish, while the fish is driven by its desire to survive. Their struggle against each other is the primary conflict of the novel.

Examples of Novellas

Here is a list of twenty-five of the best-known and/or most popular novellas in the English language. Some were first written in another language and then translated into English.

  1. "Animal Farm" by George Orwell (1945)
  2. "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville (1853)
  3. "Breakfast at Tiffany's and Three Stories" by Truman Capote (1958)
  4. "Candide" by Voltaire (1759)
  5. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1981)
  6. "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (1843)
  7. "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  8. "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton (1911)
  9. "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  10. "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka (1915)
  11. "Night" by Elie Wiesel (1956)
  12. "Notes from Underground" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864)
  13. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck (1937)
  14. "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King (1982)
  15. "Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse (1922)
  16. "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin (1899)
  17. "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London (1903)
  18. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy (1886)
  19. "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
  20. "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
  21. "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck (1947)
  22. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  23. "The Stranger" by Albert Camus (1942)
  24. "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells (1945)
  25. "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (1898)

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a novella?

The purpose of a novella is to tell a story in a form that is longer than a short story, but shorter than a full-length novel. A novella is a work of fiction, meaning that it utilizes imaginary characters to tell the story and develop the plot.

What is the difference between a novella and a novel?

A novella is shorter than a typical novel. Generally, a novella is around 100 pages long (between 17,500 and 40.000 words). In addition, its plot is more compressed and concise than that of a full-length novel, focusing on a primary character (protagonist) and the character(s) or force(s) that opposes the protagonist. This character or force is known as the antagonist.

How many pages is a novella?

A typical novella is around 100 pages in print. The average word count for a novella is generally between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Full novels are typically at least 40,000 words.

What makes a book a novella?

A novella is a work of fiction that is shorter than a full-length novel, but longer than a short story.

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