Have you ever thought about the power of brevity in storytelling? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the fascinating world of novellas, a literary form that masterfully balances the succinctness of short stories and the depth of novels. As we journey through this exploration, we’ll also uncover the unique role novellas play in the broader literary landscape.

What is a Novella in Literature?

First, let’s define novella

Before we explore the defining traits of this literary form, distinguish it from its longer counterpart — the novel, and bring light to some of the most influential novellas in literary history, let’s look at the novella definition. 


What is a novella in literature?

A novella is a specific form of written fiction that sits between a short story and a full-length novel in terms of length and complexity. Typically ranging from about 20,000 to 50,000 words, a novella provides more room for character development and plot progression than a short story, yet maintains a tighter, more focused narrative than a novel. Originating from the Italian word 'novella' meaning 'new,' it often explores a single character, event, or point of view and is known for its succinct and impactful storytelling.

Characteristics of a Novella:

  • Compact yet complex narrative structure
  • Focus on a single character or event
  • Length typically between 20,000 to 50,000 words

What Does a Novella Mean in LIterature?

Novel vs novella

A novella and a novel, while both forms of written fiction, vary significantly in their structure, length, and complexity. A novel is a long-form prose narrative, typically running over 50,000 words. It allows for multiple plot lines, a wide array of characters, and extensive exploration of themes and ideas.

On the other hand, a novella falls between a short story and a novel in length. It focuses on a single character or event and maintains a compact and pointed plot. The structure of a novella is such that it allows for more depth than a short story but is more concise than a novel.

Length: How long is a novella? Novellas range from about 20,000 to 50,000 words. Novels are longer and offer more room for plot development, whereas novellas are shorter and more focused.

Complexity: Novels can handle multiple complex plot lines and character arcs. However, due to their brevity, novellas usually focus on one main plot and a limited number of characters.

Character Development: In novels, characters can be thoroughly developed, undergo significant growth, or change over time. In contrast, novellas often focus on a single character or event, allowing for less character development but more focus on a specific theme or idea.

Popular Novellas in Literature

Famous novella examples

The novella, with its unique blend of brevity and depth, has made significant contributions to the literary landscape and culture, providing a powerful medium for authors to tell impactful stories. Let's explore some popular novella examples that highlight the influence and reach of this literary form.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

A satirical tale reflecting events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A story about the dreams of two migrant workers looking to live off the "fat of the land."

What is a Novella Of Mice and Men Novella examples

Of Mice and Men  •  Novella examples

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This novella explores themes of guilt and isolation through its protagonist's transformation into a monstrous insect.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The story of an emotionally detached, amoral young man named Meursault.

What is a Novella The Stranger by Albert Camus Novella examples

The Stranger by Albert Camus  •  Novella examples

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

A horror novel about the last man on earth, Robert Neville, in a world overrun by vampires.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A tale of an old fisherman's journey, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat.

What is a Novella The Old Man and the Sea Novella examples

The Old Man and the Sea  •  Novella examples

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

A complex exploration of the attitudes people hold on what constitutes a barbarian versus a civilized society and the attitudes on colonialism and racism that were part and parcel of European imperialism.

These novellas have made significant contributions to literature, offering deep insights into human nature, society, and morality in a compact form.

What is a Novella in Literature?

The role of a novella in literature

In the world of literature, the novella holds a unique position. It allows authors to tell a complete narrative that is more expansive than a short story, yet more focused and condensed than a novel. This format is ideal for exploring a single character, idea, or event in depth, without the need for subplots or secondary narratives that are often found in longer works.

Exploration of Themes and Narratives 

Due to their length, novellas are typically centered around a singular theme or narrative. They often explore a specific incident or character in great detail, providing insight into their motivations, emotions, and experiences. This focus on a singular theme or narrative allows for a deep exploration of concepts such as identity, morality, or societal issues within a compact form.

For example, Albert Camus used the novella to explore the concept of absurdity in The Stranger through a fictional story. If you’ve ever read The Stranger or plan to, take a look at this video breaking down the philosophy of Camus and how he tied it into his novella. 

PHILOSOPHY  •  Albert Camus

Unique Opportunities and Challenges

The novella format presents its own set of opportunities and challenges. On one hand, it provides authors with the chance to delve deeply into a single idea or character, something that might get lost in the expanse of a novel. Novellas also allow for more experimental storytelling techniques, such as unusual narrative structures or perspectives.

On the other hand, the brevity of a novella can also be a challenge. Authors must balance the need for depth and complexity with the constraints of a shorter format. Every word counts in a novella, and there's little room for extraneous details or digressions.

Despite these challenges, when executed well, a novella can leave a lasting impact, providing readers with a thought-provoking and satisfying literary experience within a compact narrative.

Up Next

What is Story Structure?

Having explored the fascinating world of novellas, let's now turn our attention to another crucial element of storytelling — the structure of a story. In the following article, we'll delve into how narratives are shaped and the integral role this plays in bringing a story to life.

Up Next: All About Story Structure →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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