Novels, Novellas and Short Stories: Length and Other Measurements

Category: Writing

The Spit, the Sound and the Nest, recently published by Vagabond Voices, is my book of three loosely connected stories, each around 15000 words long. Or short. Depending which way you look at it. Does this make them novellas, long stories, a novel in three parts? I find myself not caring too much. I like stories. Everything is a story. I also like short sentences. And long poems.

Writing should be an adventure

A novella is said to be longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. How broad and not worth worrying about that definition is (unless it’s something that fascinates you and gives you something to work with). Writing should be an adventure and all about getting down what you want. Even if you discover what that is a long time after you start.

I’ve always loved books that can be read in a single sitting. Characters and settings that draw you in for an intense period, creating an atmosphere that stays with you long after reading, like a complex flavour. Or poetry that builds up satisfying layers of images and ideas. I’m thinking of The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, The Notebook by Agota Kristof, Red Doc by Anne Carson.

Time plays its part. I wrote The Spit, the Sound and the Nest when my children were at primary school and nursery. I remember dropping my youngest off and rushing home to make the most of those precious two and a half hours. The sense of urgency. I worked on all three stories at once and, while each had the potential to grow longer and wider, I enjoyed zooming in on my characters' lives and the constraint of each time period – a day, a week, a winter.

It's useful, I admit, to be able to say what your book is

And shape. My current project, House However, is a book of 62 ‘somethings’ that are starting to look like prose poems. Working on it, I’ve not been too preoccupied by what they might become but their number was deliberate, a whole from the beginning, with a book in mind and an awareness of the publishing world and its categories. Because it is useful, I admit, to be able to say what your book is.

Maybe one day, if I have whole stretches of hours available to me, I will write a well-researched 500-page novel. I do enjoy reading them when the pace flows and carries me with it. But I’m not sure. I have tried to work in a more linear way but always return to fast and fragmentary. It’s important, I think, to get to know the way you think and write and play with that – collaborate, translate – but be yourself and nurture your own individual writing process.

Kathrine Sowerby

Kathrine Sowerby is a writer living in Glasgow. Her chapbooks Unnecessarily Emphatic and Tired Blue Mountain are published by Red Ceilings Press, her poetry collection That Bird Loved by Hesterglock Press, and her book of stories The Spit, the Sound and the Nest by Vagabond Voices. She received a 2013 New Writers Award from The Scottish Book Trust and you can find out more on her website.