Novels vs. Novellas vs. Short Stories – And what in the world is a Novellette?

I’m a novelist. I’ve a long history of writing longer books, and some multiple book series, even. Though recently, I’ve had the chance to experiment with shorter forms and I’ve discovered that writing a novel is a very different experience from writing a short story, for example. 

I know how strange it sounds. Writing is writing, right? But just as the genre of a piece makes a difference, so does the length. I’m not saying that a novelist can’t be good at writing shorter works, they can, but there’s a learning curve. Just like it would take some adjusting to go from being a romance writer to tackling, say, horror. 

So what are the differences? Is it just length that sets the short story apart from the novella and in turn, the novel? And what the heck is a novellette? 

Novel

So let’s look at the novel, first. Lengthwise, Novels are generally more than 50,000 words. They have a plot arc stretching across the whole volume, and even multiple volumes, if it’s a part of a series. A novel also might have a number of subplots. Generally there are multiple characters, each with their own stories going on in the background, even if those aren’t the focus (though they can be, such as with an ensemble cast) and those characters grow and change over the course of the story. I like to compare the plot of a novel to being similar to the length and complexity of the plot of a full-length movie. When approaching writing a novel, the author should be prepared to be in it for the long haul and see the story and its subplots through to completion. They should also think about the developmental arc of each character and how it will play out over time. 

Novella

A novella is in essence a short novel, so typically that’s 25,00 words to 50,000 words. Meant to feel sort of like an hour-long episode, if we’re comparing with visual media. It can stand alone, or be part of a series. Typically, the focus is on one character, though there can be side characters. You may see some subplots, but there should be less of them or they will be less complex than they would be in a novel. When approaching writing a novella, a writer should keep it simple, and be prepared to tell a more succinct story without a lot of loose ends to tie up. It helps to use one character’s perspective and decide what incident happens to them and how it changes them. 

Short Story

Short stories can be as short as one sentence and up to 25,000 words. Short stories focus less on character development and instead aim to tell the story of one incident. The plot is the central focus here, and there should be only one. With a short story, there isn’t typically room for any subplots. Like poetry, you’ll want to pare things down to what’s essential to get the events of your story across. Think of this as a moment in time. One adventure, not the whole journey. 

Novellette 

So recently Murandy and I learned that our novellette, The Cassini Division, is going to be published in an anthology called The Ringed Giant by Zombie Pirate Publishing. We wrote this novellette back in May as a part of a challenge to write an approximately 12,500 word story in one week. And yes, when we started, we didn’t know what a novellette was either. 

Apparently, it’s somewhere between a short story and a novella and it presents its own challenges. Like with a novella, it’s important to keep things succinct. We chose two characters, and kept the subplots out. Like a short story, we focused on the plot, but we had some room to include some character development and an arc for each of our protagonists. 

We hope you’ll decide to check it out when it gets released, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on its progress. For now, if you’re trying out a different length of story than you’re used to, I hope this little breakdown comes in handy! 

Thanks for reading and happy writing.

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