RARA-AVIS: Re: short stories vs novella

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 24 Dec 2003

In a message dated 12/24/03 4:01:57 AM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

<< Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2003 21:39:27 -0500 (EST)
 From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net (Mark Sullivan)
 Subject: RARA-AVIS: short stories vs. novella
 Didn't you recently say you thought the novella was the perfect length?
 Well, the Utne Indie Culture 2004 agrees with you. Under Literary
 Genres in the Overrated/Underrated article, they list the short story as
 overrated and the novella as underrated.

I'm not certain what the Utne Indie Culture 2004 actually is. When I first read this I wondered how the culture of the Utne Indian tribe came to be so interested in mystery stories but I then realized I was plus or minus a few letters and it had to be something else. Still, I will take agreement where I can find it in this strife-prone world.

The classic novella, or short novel. would be 20,000 to 25,000 words. I think anything over 15,000 is getting close enough to count and am quite willing to go another 5,000 words on the upper end as well.

What I like is there is enough room to explore the characters while still maintaining a good pace and a tight plot. So many novels simply add another red herring or two to pad the length. Or they add a fight or two for the PI purely to pad the length.

Into the 1950s there were magazine markets for 20,000 to 25,000 word stories.
 I think some of the best Nero Wolfe stories were that length. Off the top of my head I think there were two or three Michael Shayne stories in the pre-ghost Brett Halliday 1940s. Check out "Dead Man's Diary" and "A Taste for Cognac." I think the last regular market for the mystery novella was Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in the mid-1960s. The magazine printed them before and even now will run a longer story once in a great while. But in the 1965-66 period each and every issue included a short novel. My memory is that EQ (most likely Fred Dannay) some where or other sang the praises of the short novel as an excellent length for the mystery story. If I one day track down the quote I will post it here.

Richard Moore

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