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October 2009
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What is a Novel?

In “13 Ways of Looking at a Novel,” author Jane Smiley answers the question “What is a novel?”She writes that a novel is lengthy, a written work, based on prose, a narrative, with a protagonist. The following is a brief summary of her chapter on “What is a Novel?”:


Unlike the short story or novella, most novels are 300 to 400 pages or 100,000 to 175,000 words. Some novels are longer. For instance, Don Quixote is 700 pages, and Ulysses is 783 pages.

Written Work

The novel is different from poetry. The reader of a novel doesn’t need to remember every word to understand the story, whereas the reader of a poem must remember and understand its content word for word, or the poem loses its influence and meaning. Furthermore, a novel is written in prose, where as many poems are composed poetic language, rhyme, rhythm, meter, verse, and so forth.


Unlike the poem, the author writes the novel in prose. The novel tends to be written in a conversational tone and everyday language. As well, writers use many different writing styles to narrate the events of the story, including simple and complex sentences, words and phrases, dialogue, descriptions, literary devices, and periodic and cumulative sentences. Writers also use many types of diction to tell their stories, from formal to colloquial, to vulgar and the profane.


The novel tells a story composed of related events in which the protagonist must resolve conflicts and overcome obstacles and setbacks to achieve a goal or purpose. The narrative also introduces the voice of the narrator, the character who tells the story. The story can be told in the first-person narrative or the third-person objective, third-person-limited, or third-person omniscient.


All novels have a protagonist. The protagonist is the central character of the story, often the “good guy”, or hero. The protagonist is the character in the story who must achieve an aim, goal, or purpose. In working toward that goal, the protagonist must overcome conflict and setbacks. As the protagonist resolves or deals with the conflict, he/she is transformed.

The protagonist can also be an anti-hero. The anti-hero is the opposite of the traditional or typical protagonist. The anti-hero lacks the positive characteristics found in the traditional, such as courage, integrity, and a sense of morality. Instead, the anti-hero can be immoral, fearful, and, self-centered.

Next, I will provide you with a list of classic novels to read, books that will help you learn the art and craft of writiing fiction.


1 Comment

  1. Hi,
    My name is Susana Contrera and I’m writing a novel. I also will like to let you know that, your blog has been very helpful and that I appreciate all the information.

    Thank you

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