A novella is a work of narrative prose fiction, longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. Publishers and literary award societies typically describe a novella's word count as falling between 15,000 and 40,000 words, although definitions vary.

The English word "novella" derives from the Italian novella, feminine of novello, which means "new".[1] The novella is a common literary genre in several European languages.


The novella as a literary genre began developing in the Italian literature of the early Renaissance, principally Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron (1353).[2] 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.

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"). 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.


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 are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as is the short story, although in a novella white space is often used to divide the sections, and therefore, the novella maintains a single effect.[3] Warren Cariou wrote:

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.[4]

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,[5] reflecting the usage as in Decameron and its followers. Usage of the more italianate novella in English seems to be a bit younger.[6] 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)".[7] 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."[8] In 1902, William Dean Howells wrote: "Few modern fictions of the novel's dimensions…have the beauty of form many a novella embodies."[9]

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.

Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) 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. 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:

On a web search engine, input "novels" and "length" and you will find tables of word counts, separating out novels from novellas, even from the esoteric and still shorter "novelette"—as though prose works were dog show contestants, needing to be entered into proper categories. But when it comes to writing, any distinctions that begin with an objective and external quality like size are bound to be misleading. The delicate, gem-like jigsaw of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Ray [sic] could not be more unlike the feverishly cunning philosophical monologue of Albert Camus' The Fall, but both novels are about the same length.[10]

Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic";[11] King 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. 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.[12]

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".[13]

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".[14] 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.

Versus novelette

Dictionaries define novelette similarly to novella; sometimes identically,[15] sometimes with a disparaging sense of being trivial or sentimental.[16] Some literary awards have a longer "novella" and a shorter "novelette" categories, with a distinction based on word count. A range between 7,500 and 17,500 words is common among awards.[17][18][19]

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.[20][21][22][23][24][25]

Novellas that appear on multiple best-of lists
Author Title Published Word count Reference
Albert Camus The Stranger 1942 36,750 [20][21][23]
Truman Capote Breakfast at Tiffany's 1958 26,433 [20][21]
Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness 1899 38,000 [21][23][24][25]
Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol 1843 28,500 [20][21][24]
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea 1952 26,601 [20][23][24][25]
Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis 1915 21,810 [20][21][24][25]
Richard Matheson I Am Legend 1954 25,204 [23][24]
Herman Melville Billy Budd 1924 30,000 [21][25]
George Orwell Animal Farm 1945 30,000 [20][21][24][25]
John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men 1937 29,160 [20][24]
Robert Louis Stevenson Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1886 25,500 [20][21]
Edith Wharton Ethan Frome 1911 34,500 [21][23]

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 Novelettescience fiction or fantasyScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America7,50017,499[17]
Nebula Award for Best Novellascience fiction or fantasyScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America17,50039,999[17]
Hugo Award for Best Novelettescience fiction or fantasyWorld Science Fiction Society7,50017,500[18]
Hugo Award for Best Novellascience fiction or fantasyWorld Science Fiction Society17,50040,000[18]
Novella Awardany genre of fictionScreen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts20,00040,000[26]
RITA Award for Best NovellaromanceRomance Writers of America20,00040,000[27]
British Fantasy Award for NovellafantasyBritish Fantasy Society15,00040,000[28]
The Paris Literary Prizeliterary fictionShakespeare and Company17,00035,000[29]
Black Orchid Novella AwardmysteryNero Wolfe Society15,00020,000[30]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelettepsychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy7,50017,499[19]
Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novellapsychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy17,50039,999[19]

See also


  1. "Novella - Definition". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  2. "Novella: Definition and history". Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  3. Kercheval, Jesse Lee (1997). "Short shorts, novellas, novel-in-stories". Building Fiction. Cincinnati, Ohio: Story Press. ISBN 1-884910-28-9.
  4. Encyclopedia of literature in Canada. Edited by William H. New. University of Toronto, 2000. Page 835.
  5. Entry "novel, n." In: OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 03, 2019.
  6. Entry "novella, n." In: OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019. Accessed 3 April 2019.
  7. Letter of 2 June 1834, in: John Lothrop Motley (1889). Correspondence. I. iii. 35.
  8. North American review 25 (1827), p. 186.
  9. William Dean Howells (1902). Literature and life. New York, p. 116.
  10. "The Sweetness of Short Novels" by Ingrid Norton, Open Letters Monthly February 2010
  11. King, Stephen (1982). Different Seasons. Viking Adult. ISBN 978-0-670-27266-2.
  12. Silverberg, Robert (2000). Sailing to Byzantium. New York: ibooks, inc. ISBN 0-7861-9905-9.
  13. Fetherling, George. "Briefly, the case for the novella". Seven Oaks Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  14. "Ian McEwan claims the novella is better than the novel". The Telegraph (HOME»CULTURE»BOOKS»BOOK NEWS). Telegraph Media Group Limited. Telegraph Media Group Limited. 15 October 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  15. American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.): "novella (2)", "novelette"; Merriam-Webster: novelette.
  16. 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".
  17. "Nebula Rules". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Awards.
  18. "Constitution" (PDF). World Science Fiction Society. 2009. pp. sec 3.3.2, 3.3.3. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  19. "Award Rules". Shirley Jackson Awards. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  20. "Top 10 Novellas". The Novella Award. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  21. "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.
  22. "The Rail's Best Books of 2017". The Brooklyn Rail. 13 December 2017. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  23. Carswell, Beth (2012). "The Best Novellas: Literature's Middle Child". AbeBooks. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  24. Thorsson, Johann (18 June 2012). "The World's Best Novellas". On Books & Writing. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  25. Haber, Gordon (29 June 2015). "The 20 Best Novellas Ever Published In The History Of Humankind". Thought Catalog. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  26. "Submission guidelines". 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  27. "RITA Awards : RITA Category Descriptions and Judging Guidelines". myRWA. Romance Writers of America. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  28. "The British Fantasy Awards Constitution". British Fantasy Society. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  29. "Eligibility and conditions". Paris Literary Prize. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  30. "Black Orchid Novella Award Guidelines, Procedures, and FAQs". Wolfe Pack. Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.

Further reading

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