The Old Man and the Sea, The Red Badge of Courage, The Turn of the Screw, The Red Pony—and many a modern novel for young people—share the same thing: they are all novellas. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a reasonable (if perplexing) definition of a novella as “a short novel, a long short story.”
From an adult prospective, they can usually be read in one sitting. Young readers can, and do read them that way too. When read is this fashion they can, and are meant to, provide a singularly strong reading experience. The merging of a few hours read with completeness is, I think, unique.
But it’s not generally recognized for the special form it is.
Speaking for myself, nothing gives me more pleasure than settling into my reading chair and emerging a few hours later with a total tale that has held my reading attention throughout—while bringing me to a strong, emotional conclusion. When effective, a good novella will have you thinking about it for a longer time than it took you to read the book.
For young readers—though not necessarily a quick read—novellas are such that they do not go on (from a youthful prospective) forever. Of course, long books—Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings—provide their own kind of pleasures.
When browsing a library or book store, I actually look for a slim volume that tells me I’ve come across a novella. I like to have them a ready reading supply.
In fact, the novella is a favorite literary form for me, both as a reader and as a writer. Books of mine, The Fighting Ground, The Christmas Rat, The Barn, and the forthcoming The Button War fit this kind of writing.
From the writing point of view, the novella offers specific challenges. They need to be powerful, emotionally charged, even as the characters emerge as fully developed, with only just enough detail of time and space to give a distinct reality. They can fit in the mind of writer and reader-as a whole, and thus need to be carefully crafted and then carefully read.
One of the highest compliments I, as a writer, can receive is when a reader tells me: “I had to read your book in one sitting.”
Novellas can do that.