Novella Definition: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


Have you ever found yourself lost in the pages of a shorter-than-usual book, filled with rich characters and a plot that keeps you engaged, yet seems to end quicker than a full-sized novel? You might just be holding a novella in your hands. The definition of novella can sometimes be confusing, but this guide will help you understand it with ease, and maybe even inspire you to write one of your own. So, let's dive right in and explore the fascinating world of novellas.

What is a novella?

At its simplest, the definition of novella is a piece of fiction that falls between a short story and a full-length novel in terms of length. But a novella is so much more than just its word count. It's a unique form of storytelling that has its own set of rules and characteristics.

A novella is a work of fiction that usually has less than 50,000 words but more than 20,000. This makes it longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. The term "novella" comes from Italian and means "new"—a fitting name for a piece of writing that often experiments with new ideas and forms.

What truly sets a novella apart is its focus. Unlike a novel, which might have multiple plot lines and a vast cast of characters, a novella typically concentrates on a single character or event. This focus allows the author to explore the central theme in depth, resulting in a story that is rich and complex, despite its shorter length.

If you're a fan of reading or an aspiring writer, understanding the definition of novella can open up new possibilities for your literary journey. Whether you're looking for a quick read that doesn’t skimp on depth, or a new writing challenge that pushes you to create concise, impactful prose—a novella might just be the ticket.

How is a novella different from a short story and novel?

Now that we have our definition of novella down, let's see how it stands apart from its literary kin, the short story and the novel. Knowing these differences is key to understanding what makes a novella a novella.

A short story, as the name suggests, is a brief piece of fiction. It's like a snapshot of a character's life, focusing on a single event or moment. Think of it as a bite-sized serving of literature — short, sweet, and to the point. It usually ranges from 1,000 to 7,500 words. However, it's not just about length. Short stories often leave a lot to the reader's imagination, with open-ended narratives and symbolic meanings.

On the other hand, a novel is the marathon runner of the literary world. Usually over 50,000 words, novels offer the space for multiple characters and plotlines, and a deep exploration of themes. They give us a broad view of a character's life or a complex situation. Reading a novel is like embarking on a long journey with the characters, experiencing their highs and lows, and watching them grow and change over time.

So where does our novella fit in this spectrum? Imagine a novella as the middle child. It's longer than a short story, allowing more room for character and plot development. But it's also more focused and concise than a novel, usually revolving around a single character or event. A novella gives us a detailed snapshot, if you will, providing a deeper dive into its subject than a short story, but without the sprawling scope of a novel. And that's the beauty of a novella — it marries the brevity of a short story with the depth of a novel, offering the best of both worlds.

Characteristics of a Novella

So, what exactly makes a novella a novella? Let's dive into the key characteristics that form the definition of a novella. These features separate it from short stories and novels, giving it its unique identity in the world of literature.

The first thing you'll notice about a novella is its length. Not too short and not too long, a novella typically ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 words. This length allows a novella to explore a central theme in more depth than a short story, but with more brevity than a novel.

A novella often revolves around a single character, incident, or theme. Unlike a novel, it doesn't have room for subplots or a large cast of characters. This focused narrative gives the novella its intensity and power. You'll find yourself drawn into the heart of the story, experiencing the character's journey in a direct and personal way.

Another key feature of a novella is its unity of effect. This means that every element in the novella — from the plot to the characters to the setting — contributes to a single emotional impact. It's like a well-crafted piece of music, with each note adding to the overall melody.

Lastly, a novella typically has a clear and straightforward narrative structure. It usually starts in the middle of the action — a technique known as in medias res — and follows a linear progression towards a climactic ending. This tight structure keeps the reader engaged and hooked until the very last page.

So there you have it — the unique characteristics that define a novella. Now that you know what to look for, you'll be able to identify a novella when you see one!

Famous Examples of Novellas

Now that we've covered the definition of a novella, let's explore some famous examples. These works showcase the unique strengths of the novella form, and they've left an indelible mark on the literary landscape.

First on our list is "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. This allegorical novella uses a group of farm animals to critique the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism. Despite its brevity, "Animal Farm" manages to deliver a powerful and unforgettable message about the dangers of unchecked power.

Next up is "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote. This novella follows the escapades of the charming and enigmatic Holly Golightly in New York City. Capote's nuanced character study and vivid depiction of city life make "Breakfast at Tiffany's" a standout example of the novella form.

We can't forget about "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck. This poignant novella explores the friendship between two displaced ranch workers during the Great Depression. Steinbeck's masterful storytelling and compelling characters demonstrate the emotional depth that a novella can achieve.

Last but not least is "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. This chilling novella delves into the dual nature of humanity through the split personality of Dr. Jekyll. Stevenson's gripping narrative and thought-provoking themes make "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" a timeless classic.

These examples illustrate the variety and richness that the novella form can offer. They prove that a novella, despite its shorter length, can pack just as much punch as a full-length novel, if not more.

Why Write a Novella?

You might be wondering, "Why should I take a shot at writing a novella? What's in it for me?" There are plenty of reasons to consider this unique form of storytelling, and it might just be the perfect fit for your writing style and ideas.

First off, writing a novella can be a great way to streamline your storytelling. Without the room for extensive subplots or a large cast of characters, you have to focus on what's most important in your narrative. This can help you hone your skills in creating tight, concise stories that grab the reader's attention and don't let go.

Secondly, the shorter length of a novella can make it a less daunting project than a full-length novel. If you've got a story idea that's been burning a hole in your notebook but you're intimidated by the thought of writing hundred of pages, a novella might be just the ticket.

Thirdly, novellas can be a great way to explore a single character or theme in depth. Think about "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and its exploration of Holly Golightly's character. The novella format allowed Capote to delve deep into Holly's personality and circumstances without getting sidetracked by side stories or secondary characters.

Finally, let's not forget about the readers. In today's fast-paced world, many readers appreciate shorter works that they can finish in a single sitting or a few short bursts of reading. By writing a novella, you can cater to these readers and potentially reach a wider audience.

So, are you ready to take the plunge and try your hand at writing a novella? It could be a rewarding and fulfilling journey, and who knows—you might just create the next "Animal Farm" or "Of Mice and Men"!

How to Plot a Novella?

Now that you're sold on the idea of writing a novella, the question arises, "How do I plot one?" Don't worry! Just as you've learned the definition of a novella, you'll soon understand how to plot one. Let's dive in!

The first step in plotting a novella is to have a clear idea of your story’s central conflict. Remember, in a novella, there's not much room for side quests or multiple plot threads. You need a strong, central story that can be developed and resolved in a shorter length.

Next, create your main characters. In a novella, you usually have just one or two main characters. These characters will need to be well-developed, with clear motivations and conflicts. You'll want your reader to feel a deep connection to them in a short amount of time.

Now, think about your setting. The beauty of a novella is that you can often explore one setting in great detail. Whether it's a small town, a single room, or a vast landscape, make sure your setting is clear and vivid in the reader's mind.

Next, outline your story. Start with a clear beginning that introduces the characters and conflict, a middle that develops the story and heightens the tension, and an end that resolves the conflict and leaves the reader satisfied. Remember, every scene should push the story forward and contribute to the resolution of the conflict.

Lastly, remember to show, not tell. In a novella, every word counts. Show your characters' emotions through their actions and dialogue, rather than just telling the reader how they feel. This will create a more immersive and engaging reading experience.

And there you have it: a simple guide to plotting a novella. With some practice and persistence, you'll soon be crafting captivating novellas that readers can't put down!

Tips for Writing a Novella

So, you've got your plot sorted and you're ready to dive into the writing process. But before you do, let's explore some tips that can help you master the art of the novella. After all, understanding the definition of a novella is one thing, but applying that knowledge is another!

First off, remember that brevity is the soul of a novella. Unlike a novel, a novella doesn't have the space for extensive world-building or multiple sub-plots. Stick to your main plot and keep your story focused and tight.

Secondly, make every word count. Each sentence should either advance the plot, develop a character, or enhance the setting. If a sentence doesn't serve one of these purposes, consider giving it the chop.

Thirdly, don't shy away from complex themes. Despite their shorter length, novellas can tackle deep and complex themes just as effectively as full-length novels. So, don't hold back — dive deep into your chosen theme and let it resonate throughout your story.

Fourthly, remember that character development is key. Your characters might not have as much page-time as they would in a novel, but that doesn't mean they can't be fully fleshed out. Show their growth and change throughout the story, and your readers will connect with them on a deeper level.

Finally, enjoy the process. Writing a novella can be a challenging but rewarding endeavor. Embrace the challenge and take pleasure in the act of creation. After all, no one will enjoy reading your novella as much as you enjoyed writing it!

And there you go, some helpful tips to keep in mind as you embark on your novella-writing journey. Happy writing!

If you enjoyed learning about novellas and want to explore storytelling further, why not try your hand at visual storytelling? Check out the workshop 'Authentic Storytelling: Creating a Personal Photo Series' by Eleonora Sabet. This workshop will guide you through the process of developing a personal narrative through photography, helping you to create a powerful and engaging photo series.