A Short Story About a Novella
“You're too short.”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked him, “There's no way I'm going to take that from you when you don't even know who or what I am!”
“Well, have it your way, but the SFWA says you're too short. I'm going to have to agree with them. They would know after all.”
I didn't argue with him any further, I simply stormed out and took my pages with me. The last thing I wanted was for Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men to see from me was my ink running. That would have been utterly humiliating, but worse he would stand there and lecture me with his meaning.
I walked across town to talk with someone who I considered a true friend, Orwell's Animal Farm. Surely after a conversation with him I would be vindicated. After all, what's this silliness about length anyway? Do I have to have the honor bestowed upon me by his Highness? I don't think so, it's a free country!
As I approached the little coffee shop on 2nd street I could see through the front plate glass window that it was crowded as usual, but noticed Animal Farm had his usual booth to himself up front. He had his face buried in pages, but I couldn't tell what they were. I opened the door and stepped into Cawfy Tawk and was instantly struck with the bold smells of espressos and double-stout columbian roasts. The chatter of the people in their booths and at their tables was almost intoxicating. Here a conversation about Stephen King's The Mist and someone was spilling the beans about the fact it had been made into a movie. I hated that movie's ending, but I hated the real ending even more. Did it just get tired of being? I mean it could have gone on for many more thousand words and ended up like The Stand...an extra long novel that had to be cut by a few hundred pages when first published because, let's face it, who's reading 1200 page novels?
I slid into the booth directly across from Animal Farm, and he didn't even look up, just sorta nodded and grunted, “Yuh?”
“Well, I know it's been a little while, and I hope you're not upset that I've been missing our meetings. There's something I've been working on. I wanted to show you and get your opinion if it's not too much to ask.”
He peered across the table at me with his spectacles partway down his spine and I could see all the way into his inner pages, “Yeah, I've heard about your work. What'cha think I'm gonna say?”
“I was hoping you'd be honest with me, but I'm also hopeful you'll help me settle an argument I had just now with Of Mice and Men,” I said.
“Well, now...how is that old coot? Last I heard they got that actor George Clooney to do the screenplay.”
“Yeah, the movie's not bad, but I'm not speaking to him because he refuses to acknowledge me for what I am,” I said.
“Well, you're a short story, or a novellette at best. What? You think you're a novella, or
I could feel the steam rising as I glared at him. “Why is it I can't just be what I want to be without all this labeling?”
“Simmer down, kid,” he said. “I know the labels suck, but we gotta be there and honest for the readers. If they want a short read, well, by gosh it's up to us to give it to them. You can't just call yourself a book when you're not. Look at ole' Melville's Billy Budd over there.”
He gestured to the tome hanging out by the fireplace, “You think Moby Dick would be happy if he went 'round callin' himself a novel? 'Course not 'cause he ain't!”
He turned now back to me and leaned in close enough for me to smell the stale ink on his pages, “You gotta give it time, kid, and if there's enough there you'll maybe grow into a nice novella or even a novel if you play your cards right. As it stands now, you only have a couple of characters and not a whole lot of conflict. Your plot is kinda thin, and....”
He stopped because I'm sure he saw my ink starting to run.
“Aw c'mon, kid. It's nothin'...you got plenty of time to get yourself in order. What are you now...2,000 words? You're gonna need at least 10,000 before you can call yourself a novella. And what's crazy is if you make it up to 40,000 or 50,000 they might even deem you worthy of the novel-hood. Patience is key.”
“Well, thanks, Animal Farm, I guess I just wanted to be there already”
He gave me a little smirk and nodded me toward the door, “Go on, now, and get back to workin' on your characters. Throw 'em into some situations and see what happens. Find your antagonist among the voices there, and eventually it's gonna' come to ya' okay?”
“Yeah, I got it. Thanks.”
And with that I bid Animal Farm good day and stepped back out onto the street complete with it's hustle and bustle. As much as I hated the thought of it, I owed Of Mice and Men an apology. He really must be a true friend as well. Your friends are often honest to a fault, and an honest friend is definitely not worth losing. So, back I scuttled across the park and then under the ell where Of Mice and Men's apartment was located.
Knock, knock, knock.
Of Mice and Men opened the door, “I wasn't expecting you back.”
“Animal Farm set me straight,” I said.
“Well, good. I think it's better that you know that and acknowledge the truth,” he said.
“It is, and I wanted to thank you and apologize for being so dramatic earlier. I just wanted to rush things along, I guess. It's going to take me so long to grow, but I suppose it will be worth it when I finally get there.”
“Sure it will, and then some,” he said, as his pages opened wide.
I appreciated his reassurance.
“Thanks, again, Of Mice and Men. I'm going now.”
“Okay, see you later”
I turned and went home from where I am now telling you this story...as weak and contrived as it is. I've wasted enough of your precious time, I'm sure, but before I go let me review what I've learned:
A short story is generally 1,500-7,500 words, but might even stretch up to 10,000. Too much beyond that, and we're in novellette or novella territory on up to about 40,000+ words. Then we have the big boys of the literary world: the novels. The movers and the shakers. Hopefully one day...
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