Over at my blog, I go over what is a novella and what isn't. E-publishing has certainly changed the definition, focusing more on word count than the story structure. But traditionally, it's been the other way around.

A Novella Is A...

Snapshot of a single event or series of related events

Vehicle for describing action

Place for a single storyline

Long short story or a short novel


Traditionally, it isn't a place for subplots, character arcs, shifting themes and (most of the time) satisfying endings. It's a quick shot of story, then the curtain.

I'm not one for definitions anyway, and I don't really care if someone calls something a novella but doesn't follow the rules, but it's still interesting how structure and word count flip-flopped priorities as the short story format regained popularity with e-publishing.

What are some crime novellas that make good use of the traditional format? As I mentioned on my blog, I found a good one recently. Now I want to read more.

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I've also been troubled by the word count thing. That seems to have happened when writers self-published works that weren't marketable because they were too short for publishers, or because a very short short story got out of hand. The word count tends to set the price. It doesn't have much to do with the definition or structure.

I'm widya man. It's an abomination to call a short novel (which is usually short because it's under-developed and under-described) a novella.

I put the word up there with "trilogy" in that you're trying to sound classier than you really are (of course, there are plenty of legit trilogies out there, but the dramatic ring of "Book 1 of the XYZ Trilogy" sounds hollow when it tries to excuse a lukewarm story).

I've read several enjoyable and well-written works I'd call novella, notably by Ray Banks, wo seems to be born to write them. We'v all read novels that were obviously padded to reach a word count large enough to justify a print book. To me, a novella tells a story at the length it should be told: no padding, but also not leaving anything out to make it work as a "short" story. Not all stories are appropriate for a novella, just as not all are suitable for novels, or short stories, of flash. When they work, they're great. When they don't, they're as unsatisfying as anything else would be when it doesn't work.

Nailed it.


Never thought about the difference before other than thinking that novella's were short stories that didn't have to share space with other short stories (via a collection). Dana's definition seems to have struck a chord. It's probably what I thought a novella was but couldn't quite articulate. Great post, Dana and great topic, Benjamin.    

In my sore experience, as the author of three literary mysteries that I guess are novellas by word count, a novella is what a magazine won't take because it's too long and what a book publisher won't take because it's too short.

My three, because my style tends to be spare, pack a lot into the word count (about 42k, 45k, and 32k respectively). There's plenty of character development and background. What's not included that I suspect a novella can't afford is sub-plot.

For the sake or reference, Duotrope defines a novella as between 15k and 40k. Above 40 they call a novel. Good luck trying to pitch a "novel" of 42k to a publisher.

Interesting discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.

Jim Courter


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