Follow by email

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


Back in the day popular  fiction used to come in an average of 150-195 pages, but then sometime in the early 80;s, I think, some marketing guru must have looked at the best-seller list and seen a lot of novels weighing in like house-bricks. And from that it must have been decided than anything less than 500 pages plus was not a novel and that all novels should be of a uniform length. After all, this fictional guru, must have thought why would someone pay the same price for a two hundred page book as a five hundred page book. Of course this guru would not have considered that a story has a natural length and that it can only be to the detriment of the story to pad it out to reach the market's ideal.

Sorry I'm ranting - but recently I've been reading a lot of Stephen King novellas and you know these things are largely better than his full length work. Because the stories are so lean not a word is wasted and yet King still manages to go off on his customary and entertaining tangents. Take for instance King's The Body, which was made into the movie Stand by Me. At just over 160 pages there's plenty of meat on The Body but it's not obese as it would have been no doubt had King padded it out for the market. And this must happen - writers want to compete in the market and so they add 200 pages of padding to what had been a perfectly structured story.

The Body is considered a novella rather than a novel. I don't think I ever heard the word novella used for modern books until the 80's - the WIKI tells us a novel is a short novel, longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. A novella can be defined as being between 10,000 words and 70,000 words. Hang on 70,000 words is a pretty good sized book, easily around 250 pages. However the novella's history as a literary genre dates back to the 1300's. But in modern usage the terms novella and novel are used to place a work in a specific market.

Man. my head hurts - all this technical details becomes absurd when you think it attached to a creative art that should have no boundaries. Does it matter if a book is marketed as a novel or novella? Do novellas sell less than novels?

Of course when The Body was published in a film-tie in version, it suddenly became a novel.
To sum up then - a novella is a book that isn't quite as long as a novel but longer than a novelette, which in itself is a little bit longer than a short story, which in itself is usually at least double the length of flash fiction, which in turn is bigger than a drabble which must be exactly 100 words in length.

Oh and a novella is also a girlie gossip magazine.



Chris said...

I have a novella coming out next year, and your post totally sold me on trying to get a girl in a bikini on the cover!

Chap O'Keefe said...

I'm right with you on this, Gary. We need to carry on deploring the power of the marketing people whose requirements dictate the length of books that writers can write and publishers' editors can accept. Keep ranting!