A Novelist’s View of the Emerging Characteristics of the Novella
All novelists have their
own vision of the nature of the novel,
Me? As a novelist I come from a lifetime of reading hundreds, probably
thousands of novels and writing a couple of dozen , I guess I have taken
Reading, writing, research -
all part of embarking on a novella
novel form for granted.
On reflection, in addressing the task of writing a novel I have seen it
as a long piece of work: a story of between eighty and a
hundred and twenty thousand words - with a distinctive range of characters; set
in an authentic time in history up to the present day; in a recognisable
place or moving between recognisable places in the world.
I would see the novel as
having a core group of varied and characters with one or more probably two
characters at the centre of this group, one of whom may be the narrator. In the
action of the novel the spotlight might fall on different members of the core group
at different times, often to illuminate the life journey, the transformation
and the quest of the central character.
Of course this is a lot of stuff , but the length of
the novel allows elbow-room to explore and illuminate all these aspects of a narrative.
I like the form because in many ways it fits the size and hyperactive nature of
my imagination. A novel can be leisurely, exploratory, urgent and illuminative
in part and in turn. It can explore different points of view and leave space
for the reader to join the narrative with her or his imagination and link it
all together into a shared fictive world.
Tension has greater or lesser a part to play in the long novel – it
informs the strong forward movement of the narrative and the character
development. Tension can be evident more strongly in the thriller, adventure or
crime genre – sending the reader hurtling through the novel alongside the hero
or villain figures. Other novels allow themselves a more leisurely approach to
their heroes’ journeys, allowing psychological exploration and thematic
speculation more space for the reader to enter the action.
So what might the novella – sometimes
called the ‘short novel’ - lose of all this in a form that only runs to a
length of – arguably - thirty to fifty thousand words?
One might argue that it should lose
nothing - except perhaps bodies. As one studies this form with its long
history in European literature and its hidden history (for reasons worth
exploring) in English language literature –one begins to realise that where the
novella is concerned, anything goes. Having recently read novellas in some
numbers it seems to me thar the only common denominator between novellas is
that they are short.
Brainstorming my new novella
Read some of my
initial thoughts in relation to JL Carr's Month in the Country. HERE
And log in
for further thoughts on the Novella on this page after our exploratory
Workshop at the Lafkaido Centre in Durham City tomorrow. Look HERE for Avril's take on our event.