Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: 50000 words

What Is a Novel?


The question that forms the title of this post may seem simple to answer; yet, is it?

Image Courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/juliaf-55850

I can imagine a few answers from certain folks:

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“A thick book with a story in it.”

“A continuous narrative of at least 50,000 words.”

“What a dumb question—everybody knows what a novel is.”

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The only problem is that many novelists would disagree with those answers; and, many other answers to the question.

Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book, Words Are My Matter, said this:

“Readers, I think, are often led astray by the widespread belief that a novel springs from a single originating ‘idea’, and then are kept astray by the critical practice of discussing fiction as completely accessible to intellect, a rational presentation of ideas by means of an essentially ornamental narrative.”

The “ornamental narrative” of that quote is, sadly, what many “experts” of “literary” fiction think they’re dealing with when they reduce the art of the novelist into their simplistic “explanations” of what the novel “means”…

Le Guin also says:

“If fiction is how it says what it says, then useful criticism is what shows you how fiction says what it says.”

So…

Another rendition of her words might be:

Fiction isn’t just what it says—isn’t just the bare words on the page. It’s how those words shape the ideas of the story and add feeling to the narrative.

So then, the honest critic has to work to show how the novel takes mere words and fashions them into the artistic presentation of ideas and feelings.

And, that presentation is not capable of being reduced to a coldly rational train of thoughts…

Well, not capable of being reduced if it is, in fact, a novel; since, I’m sure there are books out there, with many words in them, which are not richly artistic novels; but, merely books that are “completely accessible to intellect, a rational presentation of ideas by means of an essentially ornamental narrative.”

Care to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments?

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