image via dwell.com
There's a fascinating article (one every writer should read) in the December 2011 issue of The Writer's Chronicle by Kyle Semmel, "Revaluing the Novella." Semmel bemoans the short shrift the novella gets in the book marketing game these days, and he lays out some misconceptions and truths about the novella.
The novella is in part the piece of fiction with a length greater than a short story but shorter than a novel. But that's not what sets the novella apart from its literary bookends. I won't reproduce what Semmel has to say about structuring a novella, but its characteristics are significantly different from the novel, and even the short story.
Two things about the novella that bear signifying here:
- There have been many respected novellas; Beyond those in the above image there are these: Hemingway's, The Old Man and the Sea won a Pulitzer. Probably half of Steinbeck's literary output can be classified as novellas, and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a novella. But the novella isn't an antiquated form, either. William Styron, Doris Lessing, and Joyce Carol Oates have all written significant novellas in modern times.
- I've written several novellas (one has been self-published), so I understand the lack of interest from the pub houses in marketing this form. I write them largely for one reason (besides an interest in getting to know the novella form): Men have almost stopped reading fiction, for various reasons, and I won't try to list them here – but one complaint from men is the time and energy it takes in plowing into a literary novel. Thus, the novella should be a solution; it's short, usually less complex than the best novels, and yet it has enough depth to enthrall. That's part of my mission as a writer – getting me to read fiction again – and the novella should be part of the solution.