What Is a Novel?
Here’s my definition: a novel is fictional characters undergoing transformational conflict.
What does this mean?
Conflict can be internal, that is from inside the character, where the character grows and changes. In A Room With a View, Lucy’s perspective on society changes.
Conflict can also be external – where the characters change in response to something outside themselves. In The Light Between Oceans ( a novel by my more famous namesake!) a lighthouse keeper discovers a baby girl and decides to keep a secret. It’s also worth noting that, although generally fictional, a novel may be based on fact. (A little-known example of fact inspiring fiction is To Kill a Mockingbird.)
In a novel, characters don’t have to be human; the main characters in Watership Down are rabbits, and Beak of the Moon tells a story from the perspective of keas (mountain parrots). But even in these examples, the characters undergo conflict, and they learn something from this conflict that changes them.
Also, obviously, a novel, unlike a play, involves telling the story solely through writing.
How long is a novel?
A novel can be as short or as long as the author decides, but for adult fiction the following generally applies:
- A novella: between 10,000 – 30,000 words
- A short story: between 1000 – 5000 words
- Flash fiction: less than 1000 words.
And then there’s micro fiction, (I call this tweet-fiction) which is ubershort and almost impossible to write, because how can you set character, conflict and resolution into 140 characters? Ernest Hemingway did, though, in these famous six words: “For sale: baby’s shoes, never worn.”
A novel is:
- A written work
- Involves characters, conflict and change
- Generally (but not always) requires a resolution.
At least, that’s my definition! Over to you, dear reader. What’s your definition of a novel?
Because that’s the nice thing about writing and reading – there’s no right or wrong. There’s only the reader and the words.