S.G. Browne

Of Novels and Novellas

As I prepare for the upcoming release of my novella, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol (coming to a commercialized religious holiday near you October 30), I’ve had a number of people contact me who are confused about the difference between novelettes, novellas, and novels. Well, I’m here to help. Or possibly confuse. I haven’t decided.

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula awards rules, the novelette has a word count between 7,500 and 17,500, while a novella runs from 17,500 to 40,000 words. Based on this, the novel, whose length has often been debated, begins at 40,000 words and runs from there up to infinity. Or at least up to Infinite Jest, which comes in at just under 500,000 words.

(Fun fact: According to Listverse, the longest novel ever written was Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard at 1.2 million words. Take that, Tolkien.)

For the benefit of providing some reference, below are half a dozen of the more notable novellas written in the English language that fit the SFWA’s definition:

The Call of the Wild
Of Mice and Men
Animal Farm
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The Old Man and the Sea
A Clockwork Orange

Stephen King has published a number of shorter novellas that run in the 25,000-30,000 word range, grouping eight of them into the collections Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons—the latter of which contains “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body,” my two favorite King novellas.

In the afterword of Different Seasons, King calls the novella “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic” and contends that there shouldn’t be a hard and fast definition of what either a novel or short story should be in terms of word count. He goes on to say: “But when a writer approaches the 20,000-word mark, he knows he’s edging out of the country of the short story; likewise, when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he’s edging into the country of the novel.”

Although King doesn’t endorse the SFWA’s delineation of the novella, the 40,000-word mark seems to be where the boundaries are drawn. So while officially categorized as a novella, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus comes in at just over 44,000 words (and just under 200 pages), which means that according to both the SFWA and Stephen King, I’ve edged over into the country of the novel.

I hope that helps to clear things up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cross-country exploring to do.

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The Writing Life: Who’s Afraid of Good Dialogue?

In August of last year, I wrote a blog post about dialogue and suggested that any writer or aspiring writer should watch films and read screenplays for a lesson in writing good, believable dialogue. After all, most films are action and dialogue. Except for The Graduate. There’s a lot of comedy there in silent pauses.

But in the same way that movies are great teachers in writing snappy conversations, plays are just as helpful. After all, they’re pretty much all dialogue, so if the dialogue doesn’t work, neither does the play.

I read a lot of plays in college for a scriptwriting class and fell in love with a number of works by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, though I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re looking for some heavy themes and a lot of disillusionment and despair. So they won’t exactly take you to your happy place. But the dialogue is excellent, especially A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But my favorite plays, naturally, fell more along the lines of the comedic and the absurd—like Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. (Which I’m currently re-reading.) If you’ve never had a chance to read either of these and would like to see comic and insightful dialogue at it’s best, I suggest both of them.

For more contemporary plays, I’d recommend August:Osage County and Killer Joe (the film version of which I recently reviewed) by Tracy Letts. You might also want to check out The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, who also wrote the screenplays for In Bruges and the upcoming Seven Psychopaths, which tops my list of fall films to see.

Obviously there are fiction writers who know how to spin a good conversation, but as writers our job is to learn how to improve on what we do and it would be to our detriment to ignore two mediums where dialogue rules and exposition drools.

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Filed under: Fiction,The Writing Life — Tags: , , , — S.G. Browne @ 7:02 am

SF LitQuake, New York, and October Signings

*UPDATE* Due to a change in the group author signing at Book Soup, I will not be appearing in West Hollywood on Tuesday, October 30.

Autumn has arrived and with it a handful of upcoming signings and readings, as well as the release of my zombie holiday novella, I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol, which is scheduled for publication October 30.

I’ll be appearing in San Diego and Burbank for a couple of early signings on October 27 and 28, then following those up with a signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood on October 30. (Both signings in Burbank and West Hollywood are also group signings for the John Skipp edited horror anthologies Psychos, Demons, Werewolves, and Zombies—the last of which contains my short story “A Zombie’s Lament.”)

My only scheduled Bay Area appearance at the moment will take place November 10 in San Francisco.

In addition, I’ll be reading from Lucky Bastard for the San Francisco LitQuake Lit Crawl on October 13 before appearing in New York on October 17 as part of the KGB Bar Reading Series, also for Lucky Bastard. Details for all signings, readings, and events are below:

October 13 – San Francisco, CA
7:15 – 8:15PM (Group Reading)
Lit Crawl SF
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA

October 17 – New York, NY
7:00PM (Reading & Signing w/John Kessel)
Fantastic Fiction at KGB
KGB Bar
85 E. 4th Street
New York, NY

October 27 – San Diego, CA
2:00PM (Signing)
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302
San Diego, CA

October 28 – Burbank, CA
2:00PM (Group Signing)
Dark Delicacies
3512 W. Magnolia
Burbank, CA

October 30 – West Hollywood, CA
7:00PM (Group Signing)
Book Soup
8818 Sunset Blvd.
W. Hollywood CA

November 10 – San Francisco, CA
3:00PM (Reading & Signing)
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA

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Lucky Bastard Contest Winners

Congratulations to Della Neal, John Gardner, and Zayna Thomas, who all won a signed and personalized copy of Lucky Bastard. Your copies are in the mail. Or will be soon.

Thanks to everyone who played along and signed up for my newsletter. I’ll be doing another giveaway at the end of October for the release of I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, so stay tuned for another chance to win!

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Filed under: Contests,Lucky Bastard — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 7:55 am