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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1 Comment »

  1. [...] My research implies that for a work of genre fiction to be a real novel it has to have roughly 50,000 – 70,000 words, with the absolute rock bottom minimum being ~ 40,000 words. (I may be wrong but from what I’ve intuited the average ebook genre fiction these days seems to be on the short side). Anyway I take heart when I discover that James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice weighs in at just above 35,000 words and Marguerite Duras’s The Lover at just under 30,000, and one could cite many more examples. BTW one of the more interesting posts on definition and length, with a few famous examples, is S.G. Browne’s Of Novels and Novellas. [...]

    Pingback by You say short novel, I say novella | The Vagrant Mood — December 31, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

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