The novella as a literary genre began developing in the early Renaissance by the Italian and French literatura, principally Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron (1353). The Decameron featured 100 tales (novellas) told by 10 people (seven women and three men) fleeing the Black Death, by escaping from Florence to the Fiesole hills in 1348. This structure was then imitated by subsequent authors, notably the French queen Marguerite de Navarre, whose Heptaméron (1559) included 72 original French tales and was modeled after the structure of The Decameron.
Not until the late 18th and early 19th centuries did writers fashion the novella into a literary genre structured by precepts and rules, generally in a realistic mode. At that time, the Germans were the most active writers of the novelle (German: "Novelle"; plural: "Novellen"). For the German writer, a novella is a fictional narrative of indeterminate length—a few pages to hundreds—restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (Wendepunkt), provoking a logical but surprising end. Novellen tend to contain a concrete symbol, which is the narrative's focal point.
A novella generally features fewer conflicts than a novel, yet more complicated ones than a short story. The conflicts also have more time to develop than in short stories. Novellas may or may not be divided into chapters (good examples of those with chapters are Animal Farm by George Orwell and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells) and are often intended to be read at a single sitting, as is the short story, although in a novella white space is often used to divide the sections, and therefore, the novella maintains a single effect. Warren Cariou wrote:
The novella is generally not as formally experimental as the long story and the novel can be, and it usually lacks the subplots, the multiple points of view, and the generic adaptability that are common in the novel. It is most often concerned with personal and emotional development rather than with the larger social sphere. The novella generally retains something of the unity of impression that is a hallmark of the short story, but it also contains more highly developed characterization and more luxuriant description.
This etymological distinction avoids confusion of the literatures and the forms, with the novel being the more important, established fictional form. Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's Die Schachnovelle (1942) (literally, "The Chess Novella", but translated in 1944 as The Royal Game) is an example of a title naming its genre.
Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) are sometimes called novels, as are many science fiction works such as H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1897) and Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D. (1928). Less often, longer works are referred to as novellas. The subjectivity of the parameters of the novella genre is indicative of its shifting and diverse nature as an art form. In her 2010 Open Letters Monthly series, "A Year With Short Novels", Ingrid Norton criticizes the tendency to make clear demarcations based purely on a book's length:
On a web search engine, input "novels" and "length" and you will find tables of word counts, separating out novels from novellas, even from the esoteric and still shorter "novelette"—as though prose works were dog show contestants, needing to be entered into proper categories. But when it comes to writing, any distinctions that begin with an objective and external quality like size are bound to be misleading. The delicate, gem-like jigsaw of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Ray [sic] could not be more unlike the feverishly cunning philosophical monologue of Albert Camus' The Fall, but both novels are about the same length.
Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic"; King notes the difficulties of selling a novella in the commercial publishing world, since it does not fit the typical length requirements of either magazine or book publishers. Despite these problems, however, the novella's length provides unique advantages; in the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes:
[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
In his essay, "Briefly, the case for the novella", Canadian author George Fetherling (who wrote the novella Tales of Two Cities) said that to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like "saying a pony is a baby horse".
The sometimes blurry definition between a novel and a novella can create controversy, as was the case with British writer Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (2007). The author described it as a novella, but the panel for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 qualified the book as a "short novel". Thus, this "novella" was shortlisted for an award for best original novel. A similar case is found with a much older work of fiction: The Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London. This book, by modern standards, is short enough and straightforward enough to qualify as a novella. However, historically, it has been regarded as a novel.
Dictionaries define novelette similarly to novella; sometimes identically, sometimes with a disparaging sense of being trivial or sentimental. Some literary awards have a longer "novella" and a shorter "novelette" categories, with a distinction based on word count. A range between 7,500 and 17,500 words is common among awards.
This list contains those novellas that are widely considered to be the best examples of the genre, through their appearance on multiple best-of lists. See list of novellas for other notable examples.
|Animal Farm||George Orwell||1945|||
|Billy Budd||Herman Melville||1924|||
|Breakfast at Tiffany's||Truman Capote||1958|||
|A Christmas Carol||Charles Dickens||1843|||
|A Clockwork Orange||Anthony Burgess||1962|||
|Ethan Frome||Edith Wharton||1911|||
|Goodbye, Columbus||Philip Roth||1959|||
|Heart of Darkness||Joseph Conrad||1899|||
|I Am Legend||Richard Matheson||1954|||
|The Metamorphosis||Franz Kafka||1915|||
|Of Mice and Men||John Steinbeck||1937|||
|The Old Man and the Sea||Ernest Hemingway||1952|||
|Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde||Robert Louis Stevenson||1886|||
|The Stranger||Albert Camus||1942|||
|The War of the Worlds||H. G. Wells||1898|||
Some literary awards include a "best novella" award and sometimes a separate "best novelette" award, separately from "best short story" or "best novel". The distinction between these categories may be entirely by word count.
|Nebula Award for Best Novelette||science fiction or fantasy||Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America||7,500||17,499|||
|Nebula Award for Best Novella||science fiction or fantasy||Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America||17,500||39,999|||
|Hugo Award for Best Novelette||science fiction or fantasy||World Science Fiction Society||7,500||17,500|||
|Hugo Award for Best Novella||science fiction or fantasy||World Science Fiction Society||17,500||40,000|||
|Novella Award||any genre of fiction||Screen School of Liverpool John Moores University and Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Contemporary Arts||20,000||40,000|||
|RITA Award for Best Novella||romance||Romance Writers of America||20,000||40,000|||
|British Fantasy Award for Novella||fantasy||British Fantasy Society||15,000||40,000|||
|The Paris Literary Prize||literary fiction||Shakespeare and Company||17,000||35,000|||
|Black Orchid Novella Award||mystery||Nero Wolfe Society||15,000||20,000|||
|Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette||psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy||7,500||17,499|||
|Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella||psychological suspense, horror, or dark fantasy||17,500||39,999|||