by Steve Hooley
The novella is an interesting part of fiction history and the current fiction panorama. It played a role in the development of other forms of current fiction and is being used more in today’s fast-paced publishing environment.
A review of The Kill Zone’s archives (for novella) revealed three articles by James Scott Bell, Joe Moore, and Jordan Dane. It’s been 6-10 years since those posts, so let’s take another look at the Novella.
The word “novella” is the feminine form of “novello,” Italian (masculine) for “new.”
The novella has been described as “a short novel or a long short story.” Its length is listed as 10,000 – 40,000 words (some sources say 20,000 – 50,000 or even 15,000 – 60,000). The novella usually has a single plotline, is focused on one character, and “can be read in a single day.” It may or may not be divided into chapters, and white space is traditionally used to divide sections.
Examples of novellas that used chapters:
- Animal Farm – George Orwell
- War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
During its history, the novella has been used in different ways. Let’s see if it is the “load-it-up-with-everything compact utility vehicle” or a “fast-sexy-Italian sports car.”
The Britannica entry for Novella (summarized) states that the novella originated in Italy during the Middle Ages, where its form was originally based on local events (humorous, political, or amorous). Writers such as Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and Bandello later developed it into a psychologically subtle and structured short tale, using a frame story to unify.
Chaucer introduced it to England with The Canterbury Tales.
During the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare and other playwrights used plots from the Italian novella.
The content and form of these tales influenced development of the English novel in the 18th century, and the short story in the 19th century.
The novella flourished in Germany (known as Novelle) in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, often contained in a frame story and based on a catastrophic event. It was characterized by brevity, a self-contained plot, and ending with irony, while using restraint of emotion and an objective presentation.
Examples of novellas:
- Tolstoy – The Death of Ivan Ilich
- Dostoyevsky – Notes from the Underground
- Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
- Henry James – The Aspern Papers
Tips on Writing
James Scott Bell – 8-12-12
- Use one plot
- One POV
- One central question
- One style and tone
- Have a rock-solid premise
- Write in the heat of passion
- Use white space to designate scene changes
- Keep asking, “How can it get worse?”
Joe Moore – 4-29-15
- Keep it short for a quick read, for the time-deprived reader
Jordan Dane – 4-21-16
- Plots must be simpler
- Minimize subplots
- Setting, description, and prose must be simplified
- Novellas are like screenplays – focus on dialogue and major plot movements
- Novellas are like visuals of a film
From Jordan’s post
- Generate buzz for an upcoming novel, ex: short backstory for MC
- Enhance cash flow
- Character focus – focus on MC or interesting secondary character
- Advance tease for upcoming project
- Writing time filler between projects
- Discount price
From Joe’s post
- A quick read for busy readers
Since the novella has evolved over time and could conceivably continue to change, this could be fertile ground for a right brain playground.
- Opportunity to experiment with a character-oriented story
- Opportunity to develop a secondary character
- Edit an anthology into a novella with a frame story and a common theme to run through each section
- Experiment with new ways to separate sections
- Create new subcategories of the novella
- How about a men’s fiction subcategory – The Novello
- The “reader magnet” as a reward for signing up for a newsletter. It’s getting increasing use.
Okay, it’s your turn.
- Have you written a novella?
- What’s your favorite use of the novella?
- What ideas can you think of to make the novella truly novella (new)?
- Any ideas to put your personal stamp on it?
- Can you add a subcategory?
- Would you like to help shape its history?
- Any other novella/novello ideas?