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What Makes a Novel?

Today’s Writing Definition of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is “novel.”

Think that’s a stupid word to define? That you already know very well what it means?

Well, maybe it is and maybe you do. But you might want to read on just to be sure…

A novel is generally defined as a fictional account that requires 70,000 to 120,000 words to tell.

Notice the word “generally,” however, because some sources will say a novel can be as few as 50,000 words.

(Incidentally, that’s the definition that National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, goes by in determining whether people have “finished a novel in one month” or not.)

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend going by that explanation of the word. Not if you’re writing a traditional type of novel and planning on submitting it to traditional sorts of literary agents and publishing companies. They might not be so impressed with your efforts.

Then again, who knows, they might be. It depends on a whole lot of factors. And if you’re dead-set on self-publishing for any particular reason, then you can pretty much throw the writing rulebook out the window. It’s just a matter of whether you’ll make money or not off of your efforts.

A far less malleable aspect of what makes a novel is the fact that it follows a character or characters through a set plot.

Now, in order to properly qualify that statement, I’m going to have to stop myself right there and admit something slightly shameful.

(Deep breath in through my nose. Let it out. Square my shoulders. One more deep breath in. Okay, here we go…)

Back in college, when I was young and less wise, I was an English major.

Yes, you heard me right: an English major.

While I’m proud to say I was never one of THOSE English majors, I was still part of THAT grouping: the grouping that constantly trys to seek some dumb deeper meaning in already highbrow, snooty pieces of literature… and the grouping filled with people who are constantly thinking they can redefine the novel themselves someday with some high-brow, snooty twist to the concept.

Well, newsflash English majors and anybody else suffering under that particular delusion: A novel is a novel is a novel.

Some are good; some are bad.

Some are riveting; some are boring.

Some are 70,000 words; some are 120,000.

But they all inevitably contain characters and plots. Oh, the characters might not be human. They might be animals or aliens from outer space or even sand dunes, as I’ve heard of before.

But there are still characters. And those characters still follow some kind of a plot, even if the plot in question is as mind-numbingly dull as a standard tax-debriefing.

So when it comes to the novel, don't bother redefining it. Just write the best one you can!

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