RARA-AVIS: Short Story vs Novella -- "True Mysteries"

From: Bludis Jack ( buildsnburns@yahoo.com)
Date: 25 Dec 2003

Someone mentioned here a few days ago that he, I think it was a he, thought that the novella was the most natural length of a mystery.

I agree. In fact I have been saying this for since I started to seriously write mysteries about ten years ago. (Before that I was writing mostly "other stuff.") I think the novella is the most natural length for a "true mystery," in which you have a victim, clues, and a number of suspects.

I think that the only way to fit a "true mystery" into a length of less than 2000 words is to cheat with a gimmick.

Other kinds of crime stories: ironic stories, follow-the-lead stories, character stories, surprise ending stories, and just plain gimmick stoires as above work in the shorter lengths. But if you try a gimmick story in novel length, it becomes a traditional "shaggy dog" story. A recent example of that, in my opinion, is "The Da Vinci Code."

I think that the shortest practical length for a true mystery is about 7000 words, and even that is cutting it close. 10,000 is more comfortable.

And a question: Since we deal mostly with hard boiled and noir here--are most hardboiled and noir novels "true mysteries?"

Happy Holidays all!

Jack Bludis

===== UPDATED 11/18/03 http://JackBludis.com

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