Guest Post: Justin Carroll talks about the novella

 Novellas - Too Long, Too Short, or Just Right?

When I was pimping my novella, Everything’s Cool, I received similar responses from a number of agents, who stated that, “there’s no market for novellas.” Novellas aren’t vogue; their odd length means that, like the three bears’, these offerings of literary porridge just aren’t hot enough, or cool enough.


There’s no doubt that the novella has an interesting relationship with the literary world. Agents shy away from those works of 20,000-40,000ish words, decrying them as unpublishable. Publishers, meanwhile, have a strange love/hate affair with them – a decent profit per unit, but a marketing quandary: How to market something without using the stigmatized word, “novella”. 

Then there are those writers who scoff at the novella, considering it a rambling short story or a novel that ran out of steam, both being the product of a sub-par creative force.  

But, some writers don’t take the above view. Ian McEwan, author of the Booker shortlisted novella, On Chesil Beach, recently wrote that the novella is “the perfect form of prose fiction”. Before him, other writers had embraced the novella – in recent years, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury to name but two. Or, further back, we see Henry James, Kafka, Steinbeck, or the school perennial, Joseph Conrad and The Heart of Darkness. 

For these writers, among numerous others, the novella isn’t a failed novel or the product of an inability to edit. In a novella, words cannot run riot; much like a short story, every word is precious, every scene needs to be carefully considered with an economy of language and description. There’s an urgency, a tension to novellas that I personally rarely find in a novel, unless it is barely longer than a novella itself – a shining example being Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory.

And for readers? I’ve met very few who would cry out in joy at the prospect of a novella any more than they would clap excitedly at the prospect of a two-thousand page saga.
Justin Carroll

But, what really matters is not the length or identifier, it’s the story.  Story drives and guides the novella like no other medium. There’s no time for rambling or self-indulgence. It’s not a literary morsel, a few thousand words to whet the appetite but leave the reader wanting. It’s a tight story, driven by carefully created characters and plots, that allows just enough space for them to breathe and develop in a way that a short story often cannot. There’s something about the novella, about the tightness and self-contained nature of it that, like a good short story, ends precisely when it means to. By necessity the reader has to dive in and lose him- or herself. And, to have one’s readers lose themselves in one’s world is what every writer aspires to, surely?  

I’m not saying that the novella is ‘the perfect form’, and I’m certainly not saying that I will only write novellas. However, I do strongly believe that the novella is as valid a choice for storytelling as any other. Arguably, it is a better way to tell a story than a rambling epic or an unsatisfying short story.  And, if your story reaches its natural conclusion at a mere 30,000 words or so (42,000 in my case), don’t try and fill it out unnecessarily. Revel in the fact that you have crafted a story that is the length it needs to be. Be proud that you have joined the novella alumni, those writers who have wrestled with a taxing medium and crafted a story that is enjoyable and rewarding to read.

Then, let the readers decide: Unpublishable, unmarketable, bastard offspring of the novel and the short story? Or a work of fiction that, like that third bowl of porridge, is just right. 
You can buy Everything's Cool here. Follow Justin via his website or on Twitter (@writerjustinc)

After The End

So you've written your words (and edited them, naturally).

You may have stories included in an anthology or posted on a blog; you may have novels published and eager to meet willing readers. You may even have lists of jokes so funny that they carry a government health warning.

And, while the temptation is to focus all your attention on your next literary project, don't forget there's other work to be done.

I give you...things to do when you're done writing.

Nuture your blog.
No, not just the acquisition of oodles of followers and comments. Recheck your posts for spelling aand grammatical errors - your blog is your calling card and your shop window. Speaking of windows, does the blog need freshening up a little? Gadgets can enhance your blog and encourage an audience to spend more time there. Share buttons are a must. Lastly, and sinisterly, remember to keep on top of those pesky spammers. Ensure your settings prevent unwanted anonymous posts that try and flood the world with viagra.

Check your notebooks.
Remember that special cupboard full of gems? There may indeed be treasure in them thar pages. When I came to edit my fantasy, Covenant, I wasn't sure who one of the early characters reincarnated as. In fact, I was planning to create a new character specially. Only when I dug out some notebooks and managed to decipher my own writing (another tip - write notes so they can be read!) did I discover who the mystery person had ceome - and why. Well done me of 2004 - I take my hat off to you.

Do some general spring-cleaning.
I've found that completing a long piece of writing can be likened to concluding a relationship. You're sad, of course, and wistful about what might have been. But you're also ready for a fresh start, itching to begin a new chapter of your life. Clearing the decks - and thinning out the bookshelves - can be remarkably therapeutic for your writing.

If your book is published, or even if it's unpublished but finalised as far as you're concerned, get rid of the old versions. If you have a final version that you're truly happy with (in comparison to the others), why would you need any other?

Take a break from yourself.
A day, a week, a different chair to sit in and write. Change the pattern, change your writing pattern, wear a hat (again with the hats...) - anything to signify to yourself that this new piece of writing is a thing apart and stands on its own merit. (Changing genre can be good for that too.)

And once you've tried all of the above - and anything else you can think of to breathe new vitality into your writing practice, get writing. Those books won't write themselves, you know!