Sunday, June 7, 2009


novelette--a narrative running between 7500 and 25000 words; an arbitrarily defined narrative whose length is longer than a short story and not quite so long as a genre or category novel.

All of Alice Munro's short stories have the feel of novels, but this is because her ability to evoke characters, situations, and settings is so commodious and accomplished. It may be positively said of her that she has compressed novels into a shorter form; it may also be said that it is difficult to read one of her short stories without feeling as though it had the texture and layering of a novel. 
 Many of Munro's short stories have elements commonly associated with novels, elements such as multiple point of view, protracted time span, and extensive shifts in locale (or at least significant shifts from urban to rural settings).

Although technically a novel because of its theme, throughline, and ensemble cast of characters, George Orwell's Animal Farm is often spoken of as a novelette, perhaps as a mild rebuke or patronizing response to the author because of the political views expressed in the work. E. B.White's iconic Charlotte's Web is rarely spoken of a novelette and generally regarded as a novel intended for younger readers. 

 The Orwell and the White are of an approximate length. For a better perspective, try thinking of the serialized story that once appeared in monthly magazines. These had a reduced length, ensemble cast of characters, possible shifts in point of view, and possible shifts in time frame. Such stories were edited with an eye to cliffhanger episode endings and overall space considerations. 

 In the 1950s and 60s, Cosmopolitan Magazine editorially trimmed such novel-length mysteries as Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying and Bill S. Ballinger's A Portrait in Smoke to make them fit in one edition. These and other novelettes (see also novella) appeared later in unedited hardcover and paperback book form.

Because of its word length and the subsequent decision to package it as a part of a hardcover book, Houghton Mifflin packaged Philip Roth's narrative, Good-bye, Columbus as a novella. Had it been given first appearance in a magazine, it could easily have been called a novelette.

In the belief that younger readers are less likely to stick with the 210,000-word length of Moby-Dick, or the 600,000 words of War and Peace, YA novels such as Gary Soto's Afterlife cap at 40,000 words or under. Books for younger readers tend to cap at less, with such nineteenth century titles as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Uncle Tom's Cabin remaining as pre-TV anomalies.

Hints: Write the story for its length. Revise it for its length. Send it forth into the world at whatever length you have felt best presents it. Depending where it is sent, if it is under 40,000 words and over 200,000, expect an argument.

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