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What is a Novel? (More Wet Water, Please)

"What is a novel?" In the past, when a creative writing student would ask this question, my jaw would drop. Over time, however, I learned that this question is not as unusual as it might seem to those in the creative writing professions. It does, however, speak to the growing number of writers who want to write but don't like reading and have never studied the craft of fiction.

To write good fiction, it's important to read and value fiction, and to study and understand the craft. To be taken seriously, as in any career, knowing the correct terminology is also essential. A close cousin to the question "What is a novel?" is the statement, "I'm writing a fiction novel." This raises eyebrows by being redundant, the equivalent of drinking a glass of wet water.

A novel, by definition, is a book-length work of fiction. This is something that should be learned in high school or sooner. If you did not read novels in highschool or learn the characteristics of a novel, that's a shame. So many wonderful, engaging novels exist to spark a love of reading. If you skipped reading and library time, perhaps thinking it was unimportant, shame on you. :) Novels help to shape our ability to empathize and analyze, and they provide access to thoughts and experiences we might never encounter otherwise. They broaden our sense of the world and of humanity.

So What is a Novel?

A novel is a book-length work of fiction depicting one or more characters involved in the active pursuit of some external objective.

A novel is a book-length work of fiction depicting one or more characters involved in the active pursuit of some external goal or objective—whether that be to save a child, reach a new planet, find love, or catch the bad guy.

A novel provides the illusion of reality, with both the characters and the fictional world portrayed so that readers may temporarily suspend their disbelief. Even with the knowledge that there are no known Martians, or that the story is in reality only black marks on a page, readers may identify with the characters and situation so that while they are reading, the world of the novel becomes real.

  • A novel is a book.

  • A novel is more than 50,000 words in length.

  • A novel is fiction. Use the two words separately, never together. You may write fiction, and you may write a novel, but unless you're also in the habit of asking for a glass of wet water, do not say that you're writing a "fiction novel." It will mark you as inexperienced.

  • Novels are subdivided into genres : literary, historical, detective, romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, crime, western, and horror, amongst others.

  • The novel form came into use in the early 1700s

  • Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe is often cited as the "first novel."

To learn more about the history of the novel, read Robinson Crusoe and the Rise of the Novel in England by Sheila Dalton, author of The Girl in the Box

For an even more extensive history of the novel visit Wikipedia's entry.

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