Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
On novels and episodes.

Jean Hannah Edelstein of The Guardian asks an interesting question today: Can the novella save literature? In the microessay (which is itself fitting), she argues:

Readable in a couple of hours, a novella demands far less time than a full-length novel: you can get through them in the same amount of time it takes to watch a film or two reality television programmes. If you read one in bed you can actually finish it in one go, as opposed to reading the same few chapters repeatedly because you keep forgetting what you covered the night before.

And best all, an upswing in the publication of novellas would not confirm the prejudices of those who rail against the dumbing-down of literature: novellas require an intelligent author and an intelligent reader to appreciate the power of brevity. Without exacting quite the level of austerity presented by the task of writing a good short story, novellas challenge writers to use words like wartime rations: with care and thought and the extra level of creative gusto required to ensure that they stretch to make a miniature read that is just as satisfying as something more substantial. And the economics are right: they're cheaper to produce (less paper, naturally), can be sold at enticing low price points, and can more easily be stocked in non-traditional outlets - whereas I'd be loth to pick up a £20 first edition of a book at a newsagent, I'd much rather purchase a £5 novella than yet another soul-destroying glossy magazine to accompany me on an hour-long train trip.

This is in keeping with some of my own recent thinking about the nature of narrative and the role of books in a modern entertainment ecosystem. Last year I finished my first real novel, Bones of the Angel, but it's short, only about 200 pages or so. One of my best friends read it and remarked that it could comfortably be about a third again as long, and I've been mulling that over for a while now. What I think I'd rather do, one way or the other, is to publish it short and begin to adopt the short novel approach as a general philosophy because, dangit, I really do think Edelstein is right.

A few weeks ago I finally picked up John Maeda's new book, Simplicity, which is a beautifully done slim volume of about 100 pages. It's light, easy to consume and yet no less off for its nimbleness. I think that novels, or novellas, would probably benefit from the same approach. Jonathan Carroll, one of my literary heroes, uses a similar model and it's paid off very well for him. So much of my own research and media diet has been made up of serialized narratives – comics, TV, film franchises, video games – that I think that a series of short novels might be the way to go, and maybe sprinkle a mess of short stories about those characters or their world in between 'em to act as "Monster of the Week" episodes, to swipe a phrase from The X-Files.

What do you folks think? Also, what if these stories were made initially available as PDFs for free download, using the Cory Doctorow model, accompanied by the option to order slim hardcovers of each one?


In case you haven't seen it yet, Jonathan Carroll keeps a terrific daily blog on his website


This is true. It's a little annoying to me because it doesn't utilize RSS half as well as it should, but it's a great insight into his life and process. And if The Ghost in Love ever made its way over here, I'd be very a happy camper.

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