Saturday, December 3, 2011

Novels, Novellas, Shorts and Flash--Oh My!

Novels, Novellas, Shorts and Flash.

I've seen so many glowing reviews by readers lately that go on and on about how much they like a story and then mark it down because it was too short. I felt it was necessary to clarify a few things about the differences between the four different lengths, and what the reader can and should reasonably expect from them.

When you’re out there browsing for reads for your E-Readers you may come across these terms used to describe novels, and it really depends on what you’re looking for as to what you should get. Not all of these stories are the same. Actually they're quite different in they way they are put together.

What do I mean?

A Novel is a fully developed book. It has a beginning, middle and end. It should have anywhere from 200 pages or more, and around 50k words minimum, and some even say that isn't enough. There is a main plot, often secondary plot threads and the details of the world are very specific. In romance you will find a hero and heroine, heroine and heroine, hero and hero or ménage in any combination, and often a larger cast of characters—including secondary characters like villains, that may be as developed as your hero and heroine. This isn’t a quick read. The scenery is very descriptive, the author goes into great detail building a world and showing you how it works. Secondary plot threads run deep and often converge with the main plot thread, sometimes more than once during the story. These secondary plot threads are necessary for the story to make sense, and often carry a lot of the weight of the plot. There are usually no loose ends, unless it’s a series and it ties into the next book. If there's a gun on the mantle in scene one, it better go off in the book.

A Novella is also fully developed with a beginning middle and end, however, you will usually only find one plot, and it’s a half-size to your novel. Often in romance there are two characters who are fully developed (sometimes three in erotic), and they may or may not have secondary characters, but they certainly are not as developed as the primary. These stories can run from 50 pages up to 150, sometimes a bit more. The scenery and world building are not usually as descriptive as a novel, and the focus tends to be more on the characters and their dilemma than on what their world looks and is, like. If secondary plot threads are explored, they do not run as deep and they are not central to the outcome or plot and they are not always tied up in the end. They do not carry any weight of the plot and are not required for the story to make sense, but they do add interesting details. A novella simply cannot go into the detail a novel can. If you want broad, sweeping history and detail, a novella is not for you. If you want fast-paced action, a character focused read that may take you an hour or two to read, instead of days, you may be interested in Novellas. Novellas are often parts of anthologies and a publisher series. If there's a gun on the mantle in scene one, it might go off in the book.

A Short. Usually one scene—maybe two. A good lunch-break story that can most likely be finished within an hour. Shorts are to the point. In romance they involve the main characters and a situation that may or may not be solved by the end of the story. Scenery is often omitted and the focus again is on the main characters and the situation in that specific scene. I’ve seen shorts that even forgo the description of the hero and let the heroine’s reaction of him give the reader an idea of what he looks like. These often run 1k up to 5k and are roughly up to 25 pages. A gun on the mantle in scene one is a waste of precious word count.

Flash. One scene under 1k. It amounts to a few paragraphs. No scenery, this snippet is often a jab on the emotions. It takes its punch, makes a point and it’s done. The individual scenes may not even be complete. These quickies are often used to promote a novel or novella in the same world. Flash means just that, a flash. Bang--the gun just went off and you might not know why.

I hope you find these helpful for when you're shopping for your reads and reviewing stories. Keep in mind authors are limited to word count and can only include content that is central to the story--if allowed, and it depends on the size of the story as to how deep they can go into the world. If you are reviewing a novella or short, please think twice about marking that story down because it wasn't long enough, or detailed enough. If you go back and look at the way it was put together, you may discover the author is a master of writing shorts, that every word, every scene, was carefully selected to give you as deep a read as they could in the limited word count they were allowed. Shorts and novellas can be as challenging for an author to pen as a full novel. They truly are different beasts and should be treated as such when reviewed.

Thanks to all for stopping by.

Have a great weekend,

D L Jackson


Jessica Subject said...

Thanks for defining these terms. Not only good for readers and reviewers, but authors as well, when submitting their work. All the best!

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Dawn. I've had a reviewer or two do the same thing to me, state outright she didn't like shorter stories, then slam it for being a short story. Go figure.

Arlene said...

The more readers you educate to what they get for the couple bucks they spend on an flash, short, novella or novel, the better. Great post, Dawn.

Alexa said...

Great explanation!

LJ Garland said...

Excellent Post! Great information for readers and writers.