Sunday, 9 September 2012

When is a Novel not a Novel?

The Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious science fiction awards and are given annually at the annual World Science Fiction Convention. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992.   They have been awarded every year since 1955.  I have just read the winners -

Best Graphic Story - Digger
Best Related Work- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition
Best Short Story - “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
Best Novelette - “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders
Best Novella - “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson
Best Novel – “Among Others” by Jo Walton

It made me realise that I wasn’t clear what the difference was between a novelette and a novella and what made them different from a novel or short story - was it merely length? And, at the same time, what is ‘flash fiction’ for which there is no Hugo Award.  So here is the answer.

A novel is defined as - A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.  (It's interesting that they say 'of book length'.  How long is a book is a bit like how long is a piece of string.)

A novella (also called a novelette!!) is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 but other definitions start as low as 10,000 words and run as high as 70,000 words.

A novelette is generally defined as a short novel, typically one that is light and romantic or sentimental.  The distinction between a novelette and other literary forms is usually based upon word count, with a novelette being longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. The Nebula Awards define the novelette as having a word count of between 7,500 and 17,500, inclusive.

A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. Determining what exactly separates a short story from longer fictional formats is problematic. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846). Interpreting this standard nowadays is problematic, since the expected length of "one sitting" may now be briefer than it was in Poe's era. Other definitions place the maximum word count of the short story at anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 words. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000.  Once more referring to the Nebula Awards, a short story has a word count of fewer than 7,500.

Stories of fewer than 1,000 words are sometimes referred to as "short short stories" or flash fiction.

Someone has most kindly sent me a pre-publication copy of Terry Pratchett's new novel 'Dodger' so I'm heading back to my armchair for a read...   Bye.


  1. Just to confuse things, in Swedish, 'novell' is a short story. A novel we call 'roman'...

  2. Whew - glad you got that sorted for us! Good fun. A serious question, isn't it, the difference between the various forms but as you have humorously demonstrated, a slippery slope. Moving sideways a bit, if you have little more time for pondering some of the attributes of prose novel form, you could have some fun with comparing contemporary and say, 19th century novels in light of paragraph and sentence lengths as well as book lengths.
    On a Sunday morning amble of my own - McGregor

  3. In this day and age I'm surprised that there isn't the equivalent of a British Standard. Maugham would have turned in his grave.

  4. I've been trying to catch up on the posts I've all the pics of the flowers and I see you used the Plato quote. Thanks for the info on the novel/novella/novellete, etc. I'm never going to have to worry about writing any of these. My blog is as "authorie" (just made that up..I think!) as I'll get. I do get it published at the end of the year but I've never won a thing yet! Have a great week and I'll try to keep up around here!

  5. You know, I've often wondered about this very topic. Thanks for saving me all the leg work! Am wondering which one I will end up with come the end of this November (NaNoWriMo, you know).

  6. Great info. I'll have to send you a picture done of Edgar Allan Poe consisting of ravens. It is fantastic!


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