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Short Stories, Novellas and Novelettes: the Perfect Story Format?

By Edited May 21, 2015 0 3

Novella and novelettes are perhaps the perfect story format. They are short, up to 120 pages and can be read in one sitting. With a story this short, there are no wasted words, no rambling discourses and no filler. They are concise and to the point with nothing extra. This format also seems to produce high quality movies. These examples are all well worth reading and watching.

The Man Who Would Be King

Rudyard Kipling's story, "The Man Who Would Be King," is considered by writers such as William Faulkner, Henry James and Somerset Maugham one of the best short stories written. It concerns two British ex-soldiers in Afghanistan, Peachy Carnehan and Daniel, Danny, Dravot. After acquiring rifles they plan to take over a country for themselves. As grandiose as this seems, it makes perfect sense. They meet a newspaper editor, and during their visit with him, decide to go to Kafristan. They discuss how they will become rulers, and share the wealth and duties. When they get to Kafristan they train a tribe with guns, and proceed to fulfill their predictions as they take over other tribes. When Danny acquires more status than Peachy, and their plans go by the wayside.

John Huston made this into a film in 1975. It is movie faithful to the book's story line. It's interesting to note comparisons of "The Man Who Would Be King," to Houston's earlier movie, "The Treasure of The Sierra Madre." Both book and movie are exceptional.

A River Runs Through It

I've heard "A River Runs Through It," referred to as a writer's book. The prose is precise and perfect. It is a story about trout fishing in Montana. It is about the MacLean family. Their father, a Scottish minister, teaches Paul and Norman to dry fly fish. Fly fishing is an important part of the story, and is the activity that brings the brothers and father together. The book explores the brother's relationship with each other, the family and the conclusion that couldn't have changed.

Robert Redford directed the movie of this book. Because of the difficult story line, it was passed over several times because of the difficulty to film it and remain faithful to the source material. The result is a fine, engaging movie.

The Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad wrote "The Heart of Darkness" in Polish, then he translated it into English. Even with the verbal gymnastics, Conrad is known as one of finest English stylists. The story concerns Marlow, the Captain of a sailing boat going up the river to a Belgian trading post. The boat sinks at the Central Station and he awaits repairs. During this time he makes observations on imperialism and how it affects the natives. He also hears of Kurtz. Stories make Kurtz a mythical person, and he may be ill. After the repairs, Marlow continues up the Congo. The jungle closes in on the river and everything becomes dark. Eventually, Marlow arrives at the station where he finds illness and madness. He is able to take the mad Kurtz away, who dies on the way back.

"The Heart of Darkness" is an involved, convoluted story of imperialism. Through Marlow, Conrad gives views of the native population and their role in the imperialist world.

"Apocalypse Now" uses the framework of this story for the movie. This movie had many stories about the problems filming it and may have affected the public perception of the movie when it was released. It has many people feeling it should have been better than it is. It is a flawed classic.

Dream Story

"Dream Story" is a 1926 novella by Arthur Schnitzler, and printed in Austria under the name "Traumnovelle". It is a surreal psychological story of marriage and jealousy. Early in the story, Dr. Fridolin's wife confesses she was attracted to a young military officer. He said he was attracted to a young woman at the same time. Neither Fridolin or his wife had an affair, but were attracted. Dr. Fridolin has to go to a patient, and after the visit, he wanders the streets, and a prostitute propositions him. Fridolin doesn't take her up on the offer. He meets a friend that plays piano at private parties. The piano player is taken to unknown houses where he plays at parties that involve nudity and sex. Fridolin is able to obtain a costume and attend, but he is found out. A woman offers to replace him for punishment, and they released him. Fridolin believes the woman is killed, but unsuccessful at finding her. He confesses to his wife and wonders if it was a dream.

The movie, "Eyes Wide Shut," is a faithful movie of the story. It suffered from the stories of problems during shooting which may have hurt it's appeal. It was Stanley Kubrick's last movie, and stared Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The movie was better than its reception would indicate. Delays during shooting and Kubrick's perfectionism gave it a bad reputation. Over the years, its reputation has improved, and is regarded as a good movie.

The Dead

"The Dead," is the last story in James Joyce's "Dubliners". Joyce wanted it to be the story of Ireland and hoped it would summarize the rest of the stories. It takes place during a Christmas party in Dublin. It is an annual party given by two sisters, Julia and Kate Morkan. Their favorite nephew, Gabriel Conroy arrives late. It is at this point the story starts. It includes dancing, singing, drinking, a Christmas meal and conversation. All these things involve old tensions between the different relatives and friends. During the meal, discussion includes discussions if tenors were better in the past than those currently singing. After the meal, Gabriel gives his annual speech.

When he party is over and everyone is leaving, Gabrial's wife, Gretta, asks the name of a song she hears someone singing. The song changed her mood  and she is quiet all the way home. Gabriel is upset and more so when he finds that the song is one a young lover sang to her in the cold and snow. The young boy got sick and died shortly after. Gretta felt the boy's love for her killed him. As Gretta sleeps, Gabriel looks out the window at the snow that covers Ireland, the living and the dead, and he reflects that we are all mortal.

Despite the name, "The Dead" his is actually a joyful story and humorous in spots. It isn't as morose as the title would indicate. A story by a master of the English language, and well worth reading.

Director John Huston had the rights for several years before he made the movie of "The Dead" in 1987.  It was another short story that was difficult to make into a movie. It was Huston's last movie. He wanted to do a film faithful to the story, and was successful. Those that appreciate the written work will like the movie.



Sep 29, 2011 1:11pm
I am a huge short story fan and you're right about novellas forming well into movies. Why do you think that is the case? Not as many complicated story lines as a full novel? Dubliners is next on my reading list.
Sep 30, 2011 4:31pm
I think you may be right. I think modern novels use fluff to increase the word count. Novels in the '50's would be a round 150 pages. There wasn't anything extra. Now you couldn't get one published at that length.

I remember an old Ebert, Siskel movie review where Siskel said short stories worked better than novels to be made into movies.
Sep 30, 2011 4:33pm
Dubliners is good. My favorite Joyce that I've read.
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