Novelettes, Novellas and Novels, What is the Difference?

Writing a novel can be daunting, especially for someone attempting their first draft of their very first narrative. 

Many first- time writers have a misconception that the longer the book the better and become despondent when their narrative does not quite fit the length they had set their sights on. Many resort to adding an unnecessary filler to obtain the length and in doing so, lose some of the magic they worked so hard to achieve.

Conversely, some writers aim at writing a short story and end up with something longer than a short story, but not quite a novel. 

The good news is that the grey area in between a short story and novel is not quite so indistinct as people are led to believe.

Introducing the novella and novelette. 

Typically, a short story is classified as a self- contained and complete narrative that focuses on one incident and a few characters and is generally between 1000 and 7 500 words. They are generally quite condensed and if serialized, can form a story sequence.

When we speak of the novelette, we reference any work of fiction or prose between 7 500 and 17 499 words. Previously, the novelette referred to romantic and whimsical stories, but this has changed in more modern times and novelettes are rarely confined to one specific genre, now often spanning fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Like short stories, they are generally fairly concise, restricted by the limited word count. They do allow for a greater focus on character development, plotting, and world-building, but often from only single points of view. 

But when your narrative will not be confined to the restricted word count of a novelette, we reach the novella.  A novella is from 17,500 to 39,999 words and is generally a standalone narrative. Like novelettes, they tend to remain centered on one point of view and one central conflict. A novella does not have time to explore subplots or complex character development for multiple characters, sticking to a small handful of characters and most often, only focusing on the character development of the protagonist. The pacing is also faster, but novellas have many of the structural and narrative elements of a full-length novel, which novelettes do not have due to the length.

What I have found on more than one occasion, is that I will set out with an idea for a story, being a discovery writer, the idea is generally vague, but as I write it begins to take shape and run wild. Initially, it may be the length of a novella, but as I revise the story, flesh out the plot and characters, and work on the gaps based on the feedback from my beta readers, I tend to get carried away and the little novella evolves into a novel. 

On face value, the biggest difference between a novella and a novel is the length. A narrative is generally considered to fall within the novel category once it is over 40 000 words, but some more distinct differences can be noted in addition to the word count. 

Novels have the benefit of length, which allows for more meandering into backstories and multiple points of view. They allow for more freedom to explore additional subplots and give the ability to create a larger and more complex world with more complex characters.

Writing a full-length novel is a great goal to aim towards, but it is also a lot of pressure. If your story is more inclined towards a novella or novelette, rather write it as such. It is more important to aim for a great story than to aim for a story that is a certain length. Have you ever read a book where you end up skipping paragraphs or pages of text because you grew bored and it was not relevant to the outcome of the scene? Exactly. You do not want to be adding filler. You will lose your readers. 

Publishing novelettes and novellas are not easy if your aim is to publish through a publishing house. They generally prefer to invest in full-length novels and even short stories are a hard sell for traditional publishing. However nowadays, in a world where self-publishing is more accessible, novelettes and novellas are becoming more popular. They are shorter, so can be read in one sitting, which is great in today’s fast-paced world, but they are enough to give a small escape from reality. 

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