How long is the story? How soon is now…

While drafting novella number two of The Feng Trilogy I discovered some useful notes on the form. These words (yes, linked herein) are worth sharing. Not for the fact that they appeared, back in 2012, in the namedroppable New Yorker . Nor because the words were penned by a critically acclaimed -and arguably more namedroppable- author and screenwriter, Ian McEwan. The article is brimful of answers to the puzzle of why some of us choose to write, and read, the novella form. Here are just three of my favourite pull-out quotes…

Why the novella?

…the demands of economy push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focussed on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness, and to end it with a mind to its unity.

Why not full-length?

How often one reads a contemporary full-length novel and thinks quietly, mutinously, that it would have worked out better at half or a third the length.

Why so ‘filmic’?

…there’s a strong resemblance between the screenplay (twenty odd thousand words) and the novella, both operating within the same useful constraints of economy—space for a subplot (two at a stretch), characters to be established with quick strokes but allowed enough room to live and breathe, and the central idea, even if it is just below the horizon, always exerting its gravitational pull.

Literary souls often get in a spin pinpointing just how long is a novella, a short novel, a full-length novel. Rather than add to this noise I propose a quite separate question, with a nod of respect to Johnny Marr: How soon is now?


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