May 13, 2010

Wordcount - From Novelettes to Meganovels

I just finished reading Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives last night, and this morning I started reading James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. It took me about three hours to slog through the last 100+ pages of Bolaño's book, less than a sixth of its overall length, then this morning I breezed through 30 pages, or first quarter, of Cain's book while sipping my morning coffee (which I sip pretty quickly). This had nothing to do with my enjoyment of the works or their relative simplicity or density - just a matter of words per page, and I found it interesting that, in spite of their significantly different lengths, both works would be defined as novels.

The novel stands at the high end of narrative length, usually denoting any work of fiction 50,000 words or over. While there are more specific definitions for shorter works (novella, novelette, etc.) there is no differentiation between books like  Mrs. Dalloway and War and Peace, though the latter is almost ten times longer than the former. At least there was no differentiation, until now:

Word Count
Notable Examples
Novelette 7,500 – 20,000
Novella 20,000 - 50,000
Noveli  50,000 - 100,000
Novel  100,000 - 200,000
Übernovel  200,000 - 500,000
Decanovel  500,000 - 1,000,000
 1,000,000 and over   

How did I come up with this naming system? It's actually quite simple:

  • I set the "standard" novel length at between 100-200k, mostly because it seemed to be a good point in the middle, and probably the most common length.
  • Following the already established novelette-novella-novel sequence, I added Noveli to denote a work between a novel and a novella (I also considered Novello, but it seemed too masculine, while Noveli is more neutral, and successfully evokes something smaller than a novel and bigger than a novella)
  • The "Über-" in Übernovel, denotes that this work is "over" the length of a standard novel, but not by any strictly defined ratio.
  • "Deca" is a prefix denoting a factor of ten, so the Decanovel is up to ten times longer than the shortest novel, or up to a million words.
  • "Mega" is a prefix denoting a factor of one million, in this case it refers to the number of words being one million or more. I do realize that based on the metric system the next prefix after "deca" should be "hecto," but a Hectonovel just sounds ridiculous; so does a Kilonovel. Plus, "mega" is now commonly used to denote anything large (e.g. in the "Mega Millions" lottery, you don't really get a trillion dollars; someone should sue them for false advertising), and the term Meganovel has already popped up in media from time to time, though I don't think it was used to mean anything more than a "big" novel. Another possibility would be to call it a Megalonovel, since "megalo" simply means "great" or "large" in Greek, without specific implications. The downside of calling it a megalonovel is that people might expect it to involve dinosaurs.
All we need to do to make this official is for some "established" newspaper or journal to reference this, and for someone else to add it to Wikipedia's article on novel length. In other words, dear readers, now it's all up to you.


  1. I like this :)
    I hope it does work out, because Meganovel is a cool cool word

  2. I think 'Megalonovel' would make people think of skeletons.

    (* Smells like a remix.)