Prose

Main Page


I. The Elements Of Prose (Who, What, Where, When, How)

I.1. Who (That Is, Character)

Exercises

I.2. What (Plot)

Exercises

I.3. Where And When (Setting)

Exercises

I.4. How (Style)

Exercises

II. Historical Developments Affecting Literature

III. Prose Genres

III.1. The Short Story

1. Definition

2. Economy

3. Unity

III.2. The Novella

III.3. The Novel

1. History And Development

2. Sub-Genres of the Novel

Exercises

IV. Exercises

III.3. The Novel

The word itself is derived from the Italian novella, "a tale, a piece of news", which is now applied to a wide variety of writing. The common element of all definitions and all sub-genres is that it is an extended piece of prose fiction. What does "extended" mean?

The length of novels varies greatly, and the debate over whether a novel is not a novel but a long short story, or a novella, is almost pointless. What is important is the elements of the work and how they stand up to analysis.

The novel must be a form of story, or prose narrative, containing characters, action (happenings), and, perhaps, a plot. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a story without characters or plot. If there is no 'plot' (a unified program of action with a beginning, a middle, and an end; with conflict, complications, resolutions, etc.) as readers we would probably create one. We are almost instinctively trained to find a plot — even if the author may not have intended one. We want to know "what happened".

Further, it is nearly impossible to find a story without characters. Someone (animal, human,  or mechanical; real or imaginary) must "be" in the story. Thus plot and character are almost inseparable.

The subject matter of the novel is difficult to classify. The novel is a kind of "grab bag" of literature. No other literary form has proved so versatile, so adaptable to an almost infinite variety of topics and themes. Few genres have attracted so many aspiring writers.

Further, there are numerous sub-species/sub-genres of the novel. Among the more important are: Gothic novel, historical novel, picaresque novel, detective/mystery novel, romance novel, novel of adventure, the Roman a clef or key novel, the novel of manners and the Bildungsroman. There are others. A few more recent forms — with early beginnings — are the documentary novel (cf. In Cold Blood) and the anti-novel (Tristram Shandy or Finnegan's Wake). As with all genres, many of these over-lap, so that a picaresque novel may also be a novel of adventure; a Gothic novel may also be a thriller or mystery novel.  [These sub-genres are discussed below.]