definition of a novel


A novel is a long, narrative work of fiction. It is written in literary prose that entertains and tells a contribed story with a chain of events that includes characters, setting, dialogue, plot, conflict, climax and some kind of resolution. It can instruct or divert the reader, or both.

A novel is presented as a single book and usually something in the order of 80,000 to 120,000 words, unlike a novella that is relatively brief. It is typically a work of fiction, but can weave in real life experiences and history.

Novels are part of the crowning achievement of literature and novelists have included greats like Virginia Wolf, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James and Jane Austen.

How is a novel structured? What elements does it contain?

Most novels are structured chronologically with essential elements that include chapters, characters, dialogue, point of view, theme, setting and the story or plot.

Let’s dive in further to look at some of these.


The plot or story is the nuclear idea of the story, such as in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have to obercome the barriers of pride and prejudice to be married. This plot should be unique, interesting and include events and excitement to propel the reader throughout.


Characterisation is very important in a novel. Characters participate in the story and include the protagonist, the main character who the author spends the most time exploring. There are also anatognists, who oppose and create conflict, or supporting characters that form the rest of the cast. Any or all of these characters help tell the story, although usually only one or more form the story’s point of view.


The setting is the location or place in which the story takes place, but it also includes elements like weather, climate, senses (touch, smell, taste, sights and sounds) that can help create mood or bring atmosphere to the scene.


This consists of conversations between people, or characters in the plot. It may be used widely or sparsely depending on the story, pacing or events at that time.


Chapters are a good way of portioning a novel around a theme, a character or part of the plot. They can contain multiple scenes, or chunks of the story, so it breaks down the overall narrative.

-Point of View

The perspective from which the story is told can include first-person, third-person omniscient or third-person limited. In first-person, the narrator (often the main protagonist) tells the story from their perspective. In third-person omnisicent, an all-knowing voice tells the story and may give readers access to the thoughts and feelings of many characters.

The third-person limited is a more removed voice that tells the story. It does not belong to any particular person and focuses on a single character, giving readers access only to their thoughts and feelings.

What types of categories are there?

Novels are divided into literary fiction, genre fiction and and commercial/mainstream fiction.

Literary fiction tends to be non-conventional in its approach to plot structures and focuses more on themes, subtext and the internal musings of a character. It doesn’t tend to be broken down further into genres. Examples would include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald that explores themes of wealth, class, love and  idealism while questioning American ideas and society.

Genre fiction tends to follow a formula (plot points and structures) to advance a story and genre writers typically immerse themselves in the genre they are writing. It tends to be categorized into a specific genre as outlined below.

Mainstream fiction is more a combination of when either a literary novel or genre novel become popular well beyond the core audience, such as when it becomes a bestseller or mainstream. Any type of novel can reach this category. Examples include Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code.

What is a genre novel?

Genre novels adhere to the particular style and convention of a category, for example, romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, Gothic, historical or western. There is almost no limit to the number of genres available. However, generally a novel should fit within one genre, even though it may contain themes of another category.

Readers also have certain expectations when they pick up a novel of a certain genre. For example, if they choose a romance novel they expect a hero and heroine, or perhaps another combination, will meet, be attracted, undergo some conflict or difficult, and then resolve their relationship. A crime novel would be expected to start with a crime or threat thereof, with clues, motives for the perpetrator and possibly the guilty party being uncovered at the end.

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Examples of genre novels


Mystery novels revolve around a crime, with a detective or detective figure, putting together the clues, interviewing suspects and solving the case. Agatha Christie novels are probably among some of the most popular mystery novels ever written with titles like And Then There Were None, which explores the mystery of inhabitants of an island that keep being killed in the same way as a popular children’s rhyme. Other classics would include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels about the detective who solves mysteries on the Yorkshire moors.

-Science Fiction

Science fiction or fantasy novels involve a created world in which the technology is advanced or different, or there is magic. J. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series is well known as fantasy novel in which a world of hobbits, dwarves, elves and more is create in a world known as Middle Earth. Similarly, the Harry Potter series introduces us to the world of wizards and their magic.


A novel that verges on science fiction, but also contains horror is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, about a scientist who wants to create life. However, the experiment goes terribly wrong for both him and the new creature he makes.


As it suggests, romance novels have love as the end goal of the plot. They usually have a happy resolution, but follow a fairly specific structure that includes various high points or climactic notes in the story, usually followed by a struggle or conflict, until the happy ever after ending. Mills and Boons novels are classic examples, but there are others such as …

If you now feel inspired to get started on writing your own novel, you can read more about the process here and what fiction editing services are available to help you.

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