Shelley Widhalm

The Novel or Novella Question

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm on February 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

Has the definition of what makes a novel, versus a novella changed?

I read in a recent issue of one of my writing magazines that a novella falls between a short story and a novel and runs 15,000 to 80,000 words.

Thank goodness my novel is 87,000 words, barely making it a novel, at least according to this definition.

But I must admit I am a bit perplexed.

From my previous reading and research, I understood that novels are 50,000 to 110,000 words, and that epics or sagas span 110,000 words or more. More specifically, full-length fiction is 80,000 to 100,000 words, the same length for most first-time novels. And a novella is 20,000 to 50,000 words.

A novella has a narrower scope than a novel but one that is wider than a short story. It contains fewer characters and plot lines to tell the story that can be consumed in one or two sittings.

If a novella has more pages according to this “new” definition, it would span 65 to 265 pages or 80 to 320 pages, based on the average number of words per page at 250 or 300 words.

The actual word count of my novel, “The Fire Painter,” at nearly 90,000 words means it is 299 pages at 300 words per page, or 360 pages. That’s only 40 more pages than the infamous novella.

That’s a bit disappointing.

As a reader, I would hate to think that the 265- to 320-page books that I’ve been reading, depending on if they have 300 or 250 words per page, were actually novellas. I thought I was reading novels, especially since most books I read are between 250 to 400 pages in all genres.

Quite frankly, I hope the article I read had a typo or that the definition was an outlier, not the norm.

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