Wednesday, May 28, 2008

-ette, -ella, -el

In my most recent internet wanderings, I came across a listing of the Nebula Award winners from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. What I found most interesting about these awards were the categories. There were the usual suspects: novel, short story, script. There was even a novella prize. But what's this? A novelette? What in Asimov's universe is a novelette?
As you might have guessed, it's shorter than a novella and longer than a short story. But how much longer, you ask? Here's the nitty gritty: A short story is 1,000-7,500 words. A novelette is 7,500-17,500 words. A novella is 17,500-40,000 words. And a novel --well, you get the idea. Following these numbers, IR does indeed publish novelettes (on the shorter end of the spectrum). I've even written a novelette! (Again, on the shorter side...) Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's was a novelette!

The World Science Fiction Convention also has a novelette category for the Hugo Award. I haven't come across any other novelette prizes. Do science fiction writers just like to categorize?


1 comment:

Cheryl said...

The novelette is a bit more widespread than that. Science Fiction Awards Watch follows a number of awards in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, and categories vary considerably. In horror, for example, the Shirley Jackson Awards have a Hugo-like set of categories; the International Horror Guild Awards have three short fiction categories but with different names and boundaries; and the Bram Stoker awards have only two categories of short fiction.

The origins of this are unclear. There is no international standard, and it seems likely that many sets of awards are the way they are because they copied the Hugos or Nebulas at some point. We know of writers who insist that the three different types of short fiction are distinct, and require different skills. On the other hand there are the cynics who claim that the more categories you have, the more people get to win prizes.

What is true, however, is that these definitions were born from a community whose livelihood was very much dependent on short fiction magazines (as produced by legendary editors such as Hugo Gernsback and John W Campbell). Several Hugo-winning novels were first published as serials in these magazines. And while the main newsstand-distributed magazines (Asimov's, Analog and S&SF) are all now struggling, the science fiction community is awash with small press magazines, mostly electronically distributed in some way, that keep the short fiction tradition alive.