What Is a Novella? Understanding Its Defining Features

Are you wondering what a novella is? While they’re less widely known than novels and short stories, novellas are an important form of fiction writing. A novella is shorter and less complex than a full novel, but there is more to a novella than a short story. 

girl reading a novella at homegirl reading a novella at home

How Long Is a Novella?

Novellas are not all the same length. There is not a hard-and-fast rule about the exact number of words that determines what type of prose a particular work represents. According to general publishing guidelines, novellas usually have between 17,500 to 40,000 words. 

Type of Prose

Approximate Word Count

short story

up to 7,500

novelette

7,500-17,500

novella

17,500-40,000

novel (standard)

40,000+

Defining Features of Novellas

In addition to being relatively short, there are a few other defining characteristics of novellas. 

  • works of fiction

  • can generally be read in a single day

  • published digitally or in print

  • typically focused on a single plotline

  • usually focused on one main character

  • more complex than shorter works; less complex than a full-length novel

Comparing Novellas to Other Prose Types

In seeking to understand what a novella is, it’s important to consider how this type of book compares to other forms of prose. Novellas, short stories, novelettes and novels are all examples of fiction writing.  

Novellas vs. Short Stories

The most obvious difference between novellas and short stories is length, but that is not the only difference. Due to the increased length of a novella, this type of work requires significantly greater character development and plot development than a short story. These are typically published in a collection of stories by the same author or in an anthology with short stories by multiple authors. They can also be published on their own in digital format. 

Novellas vs. Novelettes

In terms of length, novelettes serve as a bridge between short stories and novellas. This type of work typically has a more complex plot than a short story, but less complexity than a novella or novel. Fewer publishing companies accept novelettes than other types of work, though some do. Typically, if a publisher accepts a novelette for publishing it will likely be released solely as an ebook rather than a printed book. 

Novellas vs. Novels

In addition to being different lengths, novellas and novels can differ significantly in terms of complexity. While both novels and novellas can have complex plots, novellas do tend to have fewer subplots and conflicts than novels. Novellas are sometimes referred to as short novels. 

  • Novellas usually (but not always) focus on one character, while novels usually have  several primary characters. 

  • While novels are divided into chapters, novellas are not typically divided in that manner. 

  • Both novellas and novels are published as standalone works. 

  • Novellas and novels can be published as printed books, ebooks or both. 

  • Traditional publishers are usually more open to working with novels than novellas. 

What About Book Series?

A book series can be developed from novels and novellas, as well as from short stories or novelettes. A series is just a group of related works that are published sequentially. Each new book or story in the series picks up after the previous one left off. 

Examples of Famous Novellas

A number of widely known books are novellas, including several classics that are often included on reading lists for literature classes. 

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Ready to Write a Novella

Now that you know what a novella is, are you interested in writing one? This can be a great way to expand your fiction writing expertise beyond short stories without jumping directly to a full-length novel. Start by choosing the topic and setting of your book. Move forward with developing the story and characters, taking into account all essential elements of story writing. Be sure to follow these tips on writing a bestseller. Even if you aren’t sure you want to publish your novella once it’s finished, applying these ideas will help you make sure that your work is as good as it can possibly be. 

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