Proper novella format | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Proper novella format

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A reader writes to ask:

What does the format look like for a novella? What's the first page look like? And, what do you do with chapters?

The novella is a curious case. Not quite short enough to be called a short story, not quite long enough to be called a novel, the novella exists in a definitional twilight zone. SFWA defines a novella as a work of fiction of between 17,500 and 40,000 words, but to most of the world it's just an awkward in-between sort of thing. It can be a very satisfying fictional length—just ask Henry James—but it can be a hard thing to sell. The market for novellas, sadly, is not a big one these days.

In my estimation, the format you use for a novella would depend on where you're submitting it, and for what purpose. If you're sending it to a magazine or anthology, format it the same as you would a short story. If you're sending it to a book publisher for consideration as a standalone volume, you should format it like you would a novel, with a separate title page.

In short story format for your novella, you would indicate new chapters simply by skipping a line, then centering the chapter header on its own line. In novel format, you could either do it that way or by starting each new chapter on its own page, with the chapter heading centered halfway down the page.

It's too bad the novella isn't more popular these days, though it's easy to see why publishing standalone novellas is probably not very cost-effective. To me, it's a great length for fiction because the author can explore a character or idea in depth but is still forced to focus his writing and make each word count. The reader gets the satisfaction of a complete, involving reading experience with some heft to it that she can still finish in one sitting. I think that's a great thing all around.

(I should point out here that my own standalone novella Cast a Cold Eye, co-written with and at the instigation of the estimable Derryl Murphy, will appear from PS Publishing later this year.)

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2 Comments

I think we might see more novellas because of online publication venues. Those ones and zeroes don't kill near as many trees as usual. Though, when my computer has more novellas on it, it SEEMS to weigh more.

I do hope you're right, and that your computer keeps getting heavier and heavier! (Though not so heavy as to collapse into a black hole.)

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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