Novella vs. Novel: The Differences Explained

Ideal story length is an ongoing debate. Learn how to choose between novella vs. novel and which fits which work best.

Stephen King once described the novella as a failing banana republic, a place where stories go to die slow, unnoticed deaths. But, short-form work is getting more attention in today’s marketplace. Are you debating the ideal length for your story? This article will help you make the right choice.

A Question of Length: Novella vs. Novel

Novella vs Novel

The main difference between a novel and a novella is the average length. Novellas typically fall between 20,000 and 50,000 words. While there is no exact cut-off, something over 50,000 but under 80,000 could be called a long novella or a short novel. On the other hand, once a work heads over 80,000, it’s well into full novel territory. 

These are, of course, not the only popular forms of fiction. Short stories are published regularly in anthologies, online magazines, and elsewhere. In addition, Digital publishing has created a golden age for even shorter works, flash fiction, which often top out at 1,000 words or fewer.

When to Write a Novel

The ideal length for a story depends on many factors. A few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your genre? Science fiction, horror, romance, and young adult genres are more open to shorter works than historical fiction or literary drama. 
  • Are you looking for a traditional Big 5 publisher? If you have ambitions to score a big contract with one of the big-name publishers, you are more likely to need a higher word count.
  • How complex is your story? A long word count will better fit a story with multiple subplots and points of view may. This gives you time for character development and complex plot points.

When a Novella Is a Better Fit

Novella vs. novel
The main difference between a novel and a novella is the average length

On the other hand, if you are writing for sci-fi, romance, or YA, you are likely to find many small publishers who are eager to get their hands on novellas. These works are especially popular in digital-first publishers. In addition, a novella is a good fit for e-readers because your reader can finish it in a sitting or two.

Certain events and writing prompts fit the novella-length better, as well. For example, if you participate in NaNoWriMo and follow the 50,000-word guideline to the letter, you’ll have a reasonably long novella at the end. 

Novellas are appreciated by many Amazon Kindle readers, who search the marketplace for self-published genre work. It can take time to build a following, but you can easily publish there regularly if you are creating works around 25,000 words apiece. 

Also, a novella might simply be the length that works best for the story you want to tell. If it is a good story and does not feel rushed at your lower word count, it may be best to let it develop the way it wants.

Notable Novellas

While there is truth to the idea that novellas are harder to publish, that doesn’t mean there aren’t successes in this form.

Franz Kafka’s most famous work, Metamorphosis, clocks in at just over 100 pages. H.G. Wells popularized both time travel fiction and short sci-fi with his 84-page work The Time Machine.

Charles Dickens frequently wrote shorter works of fiction. While he penned a number of full-length novels, he wrote far more works of 100 pages or fewer. A Christmas Carol is the most famous example.

And, for all of King’s grousing about the poor reception of novellas, he’s still contributed at least 20 to the world. 

The Final Word on Novella vs. Novel

When it comes to choosing novella vs. novel, considerations about the size of the cast of characters, the complexity of the plot, and the literary genre all come into play. A less complex story might work better as a novella-length work.

On the other hand, a story with deep character development and a convoluted plot may benefit from a longer page count. Choose the one that feels best with the story you are developing.

FAQs about Novella vs. Novel

What is the word count for a novella?

There is no set rule, but a novella is typically between 20,000 and 50,000 words.

What is the origin of the word “novella”?

It was coined in the early 20th century and came from the Italian word for novel.

Is there any difference between a novella and a novelette?

These terms are all used loosely. For example, some people consider novelette and novella synonyms. Others say that a novelette is an even shorter work, often between 8,000 and 17,000 words. Look at the markets you are interested in to determine the definition they use.

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