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What Is a Novella?

 Hanny's Voorwerp Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Keel (Univ. Alabama), et al., Galaxy Zoo Team

Hanny's Voorwerp is not the name of a novella, but rather it is a tidal tail of space material illuminated by a quasar. Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Keel (Univ. Alabama), et al., Galaxy Zoo Team

A novella (or novelette as it is occasionally called) is a funny term. Within the literary world the art form occupies its own little niche, for it is longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. The Free Dictionary defines a novella as “a short narrative tale, esp a popular story having a moral or satirical point, such as those in Boccaccio’s Decameron.” Other sources define the novella by the number of words that ranges somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word novella¬† originates from the Italian term of the exact same spelling. Novella was used to describe a lengthy tale or story with a moral point. Before this, such stories were often referred to as romances. From Italy the term went to France, where it became “nouvelle” and then England, where the word, novel, evolved. So actually, novellas were in existence before novels, and the saucy collection of tales called the Decameron played large in the development of modern fiction.

Further distinctions of the word are explained at Literary Terms and Definitions, a site maintained by Dr. Wheeler of Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. Here, novella is described as a term used in Italy, France and Germany to describe medium-length fiction. However once across the England Channel, a novella becomes a novelette. Examples of prominent novellas or novelettes include Henry James’s , Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Now that I have written and self-published a novella it is nice to know what the word actually means and from where it derived.

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