If you have a fiction idea that doesn’t have much plot points to be drawn out into a novel but is also too thick to be written as a short story, your only other option is to pen it as a novella. While the novella is slowly gaining popularity as a publishing format for works of literature, it is still behind conventional literary formats like the novel as well as the short-story. Before you get to work on writing, though, you need to know what the ideal novella length is.
What is a Novella?
A novella can simply be described as a literary work of fiction with a word-count that is smaller than a novel but also longer than a short-story. Simply put, if the word-count of a piece you’re working on is too small to be considered a novel and too much to read as a short-story, then it is most likely a novella.
Popular works of literature that are written as a novella include “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
Though there isn’t any laid down law of what the ideal novella length is, it is generally agreed that a word-count between 8000 words and 40,000 words should suffice if you’re planning to write a literary piece using the format.
Since a novella is like a middle-ground between a novel and a short-story, it is bound to incorporate certain elements of the two widely accepted formats. There are, however, a few attributes that are peculiar to the novella, which will be discussed further below.
Structuring the plot for a novella is a bit tricky since you do not have much leeway in terms of the word-count that will be accepted.
Novels are generally known to be completely drawn out with backstories, world-building, and also subplots all able to be incorporated into them without their stories losing any relevance.
Short-stories, however, cannot be structured in this manner since the word-count allowed is simply inadequate. Hence, most short-stories are often written with a sole plot, no backstory, and just minimal world building.
An ideal novella should be able to incorporate the main plot as well as few sub-plots that are relevant to the story. Having a backstory also isn’t forbidden for a novella; however, you must make certain that any backstory that is included in the piece is concise and also helps in the story’s characterization.
There isn’t really any distinction in the prose used in novella when compared to the other popular literature formats. It is common, though, for writers not be too flowery with their prose when working on a novella since the word-count they can exhaust is a bit limiting. Nevertheless, there is no rule or guide that says you have to rein in on your prose when working on a novella; and in fact, many highly acclaimed novellas have been quite heavy on the prose side.
When to Write a Novella
It really isn’t advisable to write a novella for commercial purposes, unless of cause you intend to personally consume it or you already have a publishing medium in place. Novellas are simply less marketable than conventional publishing formats, and most literary agents will turn down a query for the publication of a piece that is written as a novella.
So if the story you intend writing as a novella can be stretched out into a novel, it is advisable to make it a novel. This can be done by creating more sub-plots as well as writing new characters.
You should only continue crafting a novella if the story can’t be further outstretched to get a novel or if you have great confidence in the quality of your work.
What is the Ideal Novella Length?
Although the acceptable word-count for a novella ranges from 8,000 words to 40,000 words, it is better if you try to push the word-count of your work closer to the 40,000 words limit. This increases the commercial viability of your literary piece as it improves the chances of it being published. If your novella is, however, closer to 8,000 words, then cutting it even further to a short story is a more viable option than attempting to get it published that way.
Remember, first and foremost, that the quality of your work is what will get it off bookshelves and into the hands of readers; ideal length, however, helps get it into the hands of publishers.