Wednesday, June 24, 2009


So, what is a novella, anyway? Most often you'll hear a definition in terms of length--it's a long short story or a short novel, or it's anything between 10,000 and 40,000 words. These aren't very helpful definitions. Josh Weil, writing in the July-August issue of Poets & Writers, has some thoughts on this subject. (And he should know, since he's just published The New Valley with Grove, a collection of three novellas.)

Josh says this:
Though worded as concisely as a short story, it has room for scenes to breathe. Moments can linger. The fist that squeezes the world of a short story into a few compact scenes can be unclenched a little--bits of backstory let in, descriptions filled out, characters lived with longer. But the novella embraces not too many characters, and not too wide-ranging a plot, not too vast a scope--those are the realm of the novel. A novella compresses the world with a short story's focus, but it explores that smaller space with a novel's generosity. (emphasis added)

Write that down. It's the best definition of "novella" I've ever seen.


Tania Hershman said...

I have just been thinking about this question, wondering whether what I am writing is a novella. Thank you, this is great! Can a novella be published alone? 40,000 words could be 160 pages, a slim book. Is that still done or is it out of fashion??

Josh Weil said...

Hey Tania. I'd say it can be published alone -- but very, very rarely. If it gets up over 50,000 they'll call it a novel and that's definitely publishable on its own. Much under that and you're looking at very small presses, or very big-name writers. I'd say it's probably the hardest thing to publish -- a single novella -- but there are a few (and I mean a FEW) places that will consider it.

Clifford Garstang said...

I read Peace by Richard Bausch last year--that's a novella. McEwan's On Chesil Beach was a novella. And I've seen a number of other stand-alone novellas in recent years. Weil mentions two publishers that will do them: Quattro Books and Melville House. And I think there are others.

Clifford Garstang said...

Yes, as Josh says--big names, like Bausch and McEwan, can do it.