I’d like to thank David Finchley for this guest post about writing novellas. David Finchley is the pen name of David Freilich, a Melbourne-based author and neurologist. This month, he is releasing three short novels – The Eden Effect, Switch & Gold Standard. One of his books is loosely based around his experiences working in a hospital. Now in his sixties, David is beginning to increase his focus on writing in this later stage of life. You can buy his books online.
I am a first-time novelist and recently had three books accepted for publication. But when I first received a copy of them in hand I was also a little disappointed as they looked so thin. The first was 195 pages, the second 135 pages and the third 123. I felt they looked rather inadequate. Would anyone actually pay money to get so little content? I re-read all three and felt I’d said everything that I wanted to say. Could a short novel be just as relevant as anything longer?
I am an avid reader and have been all my life. Most of the books are thrillers, usually political, many spy books, quite a few with doomsday scenarios. All easy reading, some good, some trash, but all (actually, definitely all) were longer than mine. I was aware as I was reading those books that what held my interest was the story and the characters, I was less interested in descriptions of the landscape, the buildings, the colour of the sky or the geography of the area where the story was taking place. I was not interested in the intricate descriptions of the various weapons that the protagonists, good or bad, were using. I would often skim over these paragraphs, sometimes skim over whole pages full of endless descriptions. I realised that doing so did not detract from the story or from my enjoyment of the book.
My books had none of that. No long- winded descriptions of anything. My books just had two things – a story and the characters that inhabited the story. Having re-read all three books, I still thought they were good, but what author doesn’t. Perhaps if all the other books I had read had been stripped of their descriptive baggage, then they would be no longer than mine. Maybe they were all short novels buried inside long novels.
Then the thought occurred to me – maybe the short novel is the way to go? We have become a society with a short attention span. Life moves so quickly. We communicate with each other by SMS, we follow each other’s lives on Twitter), we are exposed to the world in short sound bites or three or four word slogans. No wonder we are not reading or not reading enough, we can’t commit the time.
What if people were offered shorter books, interesting and easily readable books. Perhaps these time-poor people would start to read again. Read more. I really thought I was onto something. The short novel. That was the way forward! It then occurred to me to do a search for popular short novels. The results both surprised and encouraged me. These are all books I’ve read or heard of and all by authors who you all know:
The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald. 180 pages.
Animal Farm. George Orwell., 140 pages.
The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde. 180 pages.
Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 166 pages.
The Big sleep. Raymond Chandler -144 pages
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Arthur Conan Doyle. 124 pages.
The list goes on and on.
In my research, I also came across a story in The New Yorker of October 2012 by Ian McEwan entitled “Some Notes On The Novella”. McEwan is a strong defender of the short novel or novella. He even goes so far as to say “I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction.” Clearly, the short novel is not a new idea but perhaps it is still a good idea nevertheless. It may be the literary equivalent of the modern Tweet, but if it gets us reading again, more power to it.