Lecture: Overview of the Novel
Overview of the Novel as a Genre
As a literary form, the novel has many qualities in common with the short story. Both genres present fictional narratives about made-up characters. Writers of both genres employ the same literary devices and techniques. Like the short story, the novel features a narrator, a unique point of view, a setting, and so forth. Freytag’s Pyramid can also be used to describe plot development in a novel.
A key distinction between the novel and the short story is an obvious one – length. The brevity of the short story encourages writers to focus on a simpler sequence of events and fewer characters. In fact, you have may have noticed that several short stories assigned for this class highlight the development of a single main character, such as Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” or Nick Adams in “Big, Two-Hearted River.”
Because a novel is longer, the writer tells more complicated stories, incorporating many different characters and subplots that converge at the novel’s end. This tendency to interweave many different strands has prompted some writers to compare the novel to a symphony. E.M. Forster uses the symphony as an analogy for the novel in his book Aspects of the Novel. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner observes:
A novel is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. . . . Toward the close of a novel. . . . unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized; the universe reveals itself, if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of the various characters' actions is at last manifest; and we see the responsibility of free will. (182)
The different characters in a novel are like the different instruments in an orchestra. Subplots are like different melodies played by the instruments. Just as different melodies repeat and build upon one another to reach a musical crescendo in a symphony, different themes and story lines build upon one another to surprise and delight the reader of a novel.
The novel encompasses numerous sub-genres that tell different types of stories. Most of you have probably heard of books labeled as a “romance novel” or a “crime novel.” Brave New World, the novel assigned for this class, is classified as a “dystopian novel. “ The lecture following this one provides an overview of the dystopian novel.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction, Kindle ed. Vintage Books, 1991.