A novel is a long fictional narrative prose that is typically more than 50,000 words and contains characters, action, and a plot. Novels are written for various purposes and can be used as a form of entertainment, propaganda, personal expression, and social critique. It is essentially a work of imagination that is grounded in reality.
The novel is a fairly recent genre of fiction that has existed for only the past 300 years.
The word novel comes from the Italian word novella which refers to a prose tale that was popular during the Renaissance. The novel has its roots in past forms of short story prose such as Elizabethan prose fiction, French heroic romance, and Spanish picaresque tales. Cervantes Don Quixote written in 1605 is considered the most important precursor to the novel. The format evolved form the desire to realistically depict and interpret the human character in a social situation. The official emergence came with the appearance of Daniel Defoe’s Robin Crusoe written in 1719. The novel then quickly began to thrive during the 18th century in Europe.
There are several elements that make up a novel: plot, character, setting, and scope. The plot is a story line depicting a series of events involving both the characters and their actions. In order for the plot of a novel to be effective it must have context in the form of character, action, and setting. The characters are personalities in the story with unique qualities. Novels differ from other types of literature in that it places more emphasis on character. The setting is the environment of the novel. Setting not only includes geographic location but also the social climate, historical period, atmosphere, and social traditions. The final element is the scope or length. A novel differs from a short story in that it is longer, more complex, and deals with multiple issues that affect its characters.
There are many different types of novels. Genres range from romance, historical fiction, science fiction, to mystery, thriller, and satire. Novels are also categorized by the literary periods in which they were written in. Although novels contain essential elements, many authors have exercised artistic license by experimenting with certain styles. Authors have experimented with point of view, word play, the passage of time, and other literary techniques. Different forms of literary criticism have evolved to better understand the complexities that make up novels.