Today's novella defintion comes from Deena Drewis, Editor at Nouvella Books, and the one that re-kick-started Novella Month (at least here at the EWN) after a year's hiatus:
In the introduction to Andre Dubus’ In the Bedroom, Todd Field claims that Dubus—one of the most prolific authors of novellas ever—“didn’t write novels because he didn’t have to.” This drives at the question of why rather than what, but I think it’s a good place to start.
For all the length-ism that’s gone on in regards to the viability of the novella, I would venture to say this: more often than short stories and novels, novellas tend to be the right length. This is because the author (and eventually the editor) had to acknowledge at some point that after 24,000 words, there is nothing left to say and no more paring to done. This is the story at its most essential length. I am certain this often comes as a shock to writers; approximately no one sits down to write a novella. A writer does not regard his or her word counter with anything but anxiety when it weighs in in the substantial gray area between a short story and a novel. But I think that after the initial shock wears off, when it is discovered that this is indeed a novella on your hands and there’s no way around it, it has transformed into a thing of prideful stubbornness and integrity.
All of which is to say that I don’t have a very precise definition of what constitutes the form. After going through novella-only slush for some time now, what I have to say is nothing beyond what one might assume to be true: novellas in the 10K-20K range often feel very much like short stories with more room to move around. With 30,000 word stories, plot structures tend to take on more; perhaps the timeline is a bit more expansive, inner dialogues more thorough.
Novellas may not have found a home with every reader yet, but the landscape is changing as e-readers eliminate its biggest obstacle thus far—physical heft. I am certain we’ll see more of the form. It bears its unpopular length with heart.
Deena Drewis is the founding editor of Nouvella and the former senior editor of Flatmancrooked Publishing.