Nicole J Simms/ September 26, 2017/ Blog/ 0 comments

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The Novella Challenge – What I’ve Learned

In March this year, I decided to do a novella reading challenge, so I could learn how to write my own novella. For the novella challenge, I aimed to read seven novellas from a range of genres. Well, six months later, I have finally completed that challenge.

So, here are the novellas I planned to read:

  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

As you can see from the list, I was meant to read The Old Man and the Sea, but the book wasn’t available in the library. So I decided to read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This has been a fascinating challenge, and I’ve learned a lot about the novella, which is what I’m going to be sharing with you today.

The Time Machine

The Time Machine is a science fiction novella written by H.G. Wells. It is approximately 33,163 words long, and is split into twelve chapters and ends with an epilogue. H.G. Wells wrote the Time Machine as a frame narrative. A frame narrative, which is something I didn’t know about before, is a literary technique where a story is told within a story. You have an introductory or main narrative where the narrator of that narrative sets the scene for the second story, which is the main story.

So in The Time Machine, the introductory narrative is where we hear from the narrator who sets the scene and introduces the reader to the protagonist simply referred to as the Time Traveller, who is a scientist and inventor. The second narrative is where we hear the Time Traveller tell his story of his time travelling adventures to his weekly dinner guests. The novella ends by returning to the narrator, who wonders what happened to the Time Traveller when he decided to use his time travel machine again. This, even though an open ending, is still a satisfactory ending because it allows the reader to let their imagination finish the story.

It was interesting to see that even though it is claimed that novellas don’t normally have chapters like a novel, this novella had chapters.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a 26,433-word novella by Truman Capote. The story centres on the friendship between the unnamed narrator and Holly Golightly, who lives in the narrator’s apartment block.

Unlike The Time Machine, Breakfast at Tiffany’s isn’t separated into chapters. Instead, it is broken up into scenes. The narrator tells the story in the first person even though the central character is Holly, and there are no subplots. Even though the story is short, Truman manages to create characters that feel real to the reader, especially Holly. The brilliant dialogue helped this. I could tell whether Holly was talking or not, even without speech tags.

I am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I am Legend is a science fiction horror novella written by Richard Matheson. It is 25,204 words long and is split into four parts, which are given dates, and is further split into twenty-one chapters. The story’s duration is three years; however, there are big jumps in time throughout the story with a little summary after each time jump to explain what happened previously. The story is written in the third person, and its main character is Robert Neville, who appears to be the sole survivor of a pandemic which has caused people to become zombie-like vampires.

The jumps in time are used to cut out the unimportant events, so it can solely focus on the big events of the story. There is plenty of action; the pace goes up and down like a roller coaster ride. It was a thrilling read, and the ending surprised me. Out of all the novellas I have read, this was my favourite, possibly because I love the zombie genre, and I would love to read another book written by Richard Matheson. Even though the story was short, it still had time to give a message which made me think of humanity and how we perceive what’s normal and what’s abnormal. From the book, even though fiction, I can see how that can be quickly reversed.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novella written by Anthony Burgess. The story is divided into three parts: Alex’s World, The Ludovico Technique, and After Prison. And each part is divided into seven chapters.

This novella is written in the first person and told by the teenage protagonist, Alex. Alex tells the story by using the Nadsat slang which was created by Burgess. It was a difficult read at first, and I often had to use the included dictionary, but as I read, I began to pick up the language.

While other characters were mentioned throughout the novella, the story focuses on Alex and how he has been changed from a violent criminal to a model citizen thanks to the behaviour-modification treatment that was given to him while in prison; however, this treatment comes with consequences.
I think the novella length worked well with this story because of the inclusion of the Nadsat slang, which I feel would be too much to deal with in a longer piece.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol is a 28,944-word novella by Charles Dickens. The story is split into five chapters which he calls staves, and each stave is titled. The story is written in the third person, even though the narrator sometimes used the word ‘I’ as if he or she is telling the story to a friend.

A Christmas Carol follows the story of miserable and mean Ebenezer Scrooge and how thanks to the visits of three ghosts (Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come), Scrooge changes his ways and becomes a more caring and decent human being. The story has one main plot and no subplots. However, it has a more of an omniscient viewpoint, which allows the reader to see what the other characters were doing.

Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a 29,966-word allegorical novella by George Orwell. An allegory (which is something new to me) is a poem, story, or picture that can be seen to have a hidden meaning that is sometimes a moral or political.

The story is split into ten chapters and has an omniscient viewpoint with there being no clear main character. The story is about downtrodden animals who have been treated badly by a farmer. They decided to band together and revolt and take control of the farm in the hopes of a better life for the animals. However, it becomes clear that old habits have returned without the animals realising since their situation never improves.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a 27,622-word gothic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson. This story is written in the third person apart from the last two chapters. The novella is split into ten chapters, and each chapter is named rather than numbered.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a story about Gabriel John Utterson (the protagonist) who investigates the unusual connection between his friend, Dr Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde, who has been causing a disturbance in the area. Even though the story is mostly told through Gabriel’s eyes, the last two chapters allow us to see the story from a different point of view. There is a chapter which accounts the events from Dr Lanyon, and the last chapter is a full statement of events written by Dr Jekyll.

What I’ve learned?

This has an interesting challenge, not only have I read seven stories I have never read before, but I’ve also read stories written by authors I’ve never read before. I have discovered a lot about the novella from reading the seven books. The one thing that stands out the most is that even though novellas are said to not normally have chapters, there are novellas that do have chapters. I have also seen how you can experiment more with a novella than you can with a novel. For example, you can use a made-up language/slang like in A Clockwork Orange without it being too much for a reader like it would be if the story was novel length.

As well as learning about the novella, I’ve also found a new favourite author, Richard Matheson. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work; it’s just a shame I never read his work before now.

Having read these novellas, I now feel more confident to write my own. So all that’s left for me to do is to write that novella already. Talking of the novella, I’m still in the planning stage, but I’m hoping to start writing soon, and like with the novellas I have read, I plan to experiment a little with this one. Well, that’s the plan.

Now that I’ve completed my novella challenge, I will now move onto my female horror writer reading list, but first, I have some other books on my to-read list that I want to get through.

Have you read any novellas or are you writing your own novella? If yes, then I would love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below.

Keep writing, folks!

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