Before I started writing I had never heard of a novella. I had to look it up. They’re roughly 10k-15k words, so they’re around a fifth of a short novel. They aren’t short stories. Short stories are capped at around 5k. When I was first trying to publish stories, I found absolutely no outlets for novellas. Either they didn’t exist or they were so well hidden that I never found them.
Now they’re all the rage. Brian McClellan wrote piles of them for his Powder Mage series. Matt Wallace has some standalone novellas coming out on Tor soon. Kevin Hearne, Delilah Dawson, and Chuck Wendig are smashing three novellas together into and selling it in one delicious piece. And yeah, I have mine out now, too.
Why should you care? Why should you even look at these things?
- They’re not short stories. Yeah, I know, we’re supposed to like short stories. The really well written ones can carry such a great impact and all that. Then they’re done and we all go home. At the end of the day, short stories are too short. I want more world building, more character development. I want something that takes a little longer to consume.
- They’re not novels. Novels take me a long time to read. It’s a huge commitment, and at the end I can come away profoundly disappointed. Novellas give me a chance to see if an author can tell a complete, satisfying story. They let me know if I’m hooked on a world or character. They’re a nice, cheap sample.
- Novellas are fun to write. It all comes down to the editing, really. I can hold an entire novella in my brain all at once. This makes the more complex bits of editing much, much easier. From the reader’s perspective, this means a more crisply told, efficient story.
- Novellas help flesh out worlds. I love the amazingly creative worlds of speculative fiction. Readers should probably understand that for every detail etched in ink, the author has a dozen more. These details might be written in a secret file somewhere or they might only exist in the author’s head. Either way, the worlds you see in your favorite books are nothing but a tiny slice of a much bigger world-cake. Novellas are an author’s way of getting more of it out there. Just-just eat the cake, you guys. It’s going bad in the fridge. And it’s cake!
- Novellas help explore characters. Some novels have side characters that we love more than the protagonist. Novella’s let those characters tell their own stories. We finally get to see who those characters are when the main character isn’t around. Maybe that’s not always good, but it sure can be fun.
- They’re something. When Patrick Rothfuss published The Slow Regard for Silent Things, i.e. the most unpublishable work of genius ever published, fans of his work gobbled it up. Some liked it, some didn’t, but oh god it was at least something. Those of you who are really, truly fans of someone else’s made up world, you understand. You understand.
Grit and Grace is out now, people, but don’t stop there. Go find more novellas. Read them. Read them all.