Novel may be roughly defined as a long story in prose, meant primarily for entertainment, and presenting a realistic picture of life.
Baker defines the novel as a literary form whose “medium is prose, not verse; as to content, it is a portrayal of life, in the shape of a story, wholly or in the main fictitious”. W.E. Williams defines it as “a long narrative in prose detailing the actions of fictitious people”. The term is now applied to a large number of writings that have in common only the attribute of being works of fiction written in prose.
Difference between a Novel and a Short Story
Its extended narrative, distinguishes it from the short story and from the work of middle length called the “novelette”. It also permits:
a. Greater variety of characters.
b. Greater complication of plot or plots.
c. Greater development of milieu (setting).
d. Greater analysis of the motives of characters than the shorter modes.
Novella (Italian) is “a story,” “a little new thing.” It is a brief prose tale. (Though the English word, novel designates an extended narrative, it derives from this term). Occasionally, the term novella is used as a synonym for the short novel.
Short Novel is a prose narrative briefer than the novel but longer than the short story. It is also called the “novelette” and occasionally “the novella”.
Short Story is a prose narrative briefer than the short novel, more restricted in characters and situations, and usually concerned with a single effect. The short story does not develop character fully; generally, a single aspect of personality undergoes changes or is revealed as the result of conflict. Within this restricted form, there is frequently concentration on a single character involved in a single episode.
Prose is a literary expression not marked by rhyme or by metrical regularity. Prose is the type of language used in novels, short stories, articles, etc.
Essay is a short composition which is usually in prose and which discusses either formally or informally, one or more topics. The word “essay” means “an attempt” or “effort”. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a composition of moderate length on any particular subject, originally implying want of finish, but said of a composition more elaborate in style, though limited in range”. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is generally regarded as the father of the English essay, for he was the first to use the word “essay” in England, and his volume of Essays published in 1597.
The Chief characteristics of the literary essay are:
1. It is a prose composition, brief or of moderate length.
2. The essay is incomplete. The essayist does not say all that is to be said on the subject. He writes only on those aspects of the subjects which he considers most significant, and leaves out the rest.
3. It is personal in nature. It is more or less a personal affair. Thus, the essay expresses the personal likes and dislikes, prejudices and predilections, of the essayist.
4. It is informal and unsystematic. There is no formal or logical development of thought in an essay. The various points or arguments are not systematically arranged.
5. A good essay should be attractive and charming so that it may be easily retained in the mind. It should have a touch of humour.
Novel is Different from History and the Essay.
As fiction, the novel is distinguished from history, which undertakes to be a narrative of facts, and from the essay, which often presents characters and incidents, but only as brief illustration of a concept or point of view.
The Four Essential Attributes of a Novel
The four essential attributes of a novel are: Theme, Plot, Characterization, and Style. These are not separable parts. They are interrelated and a novel is their sum.
a. Theme sums up the novel’s abstract meaning. The theme of a novel defines its purpose. It is used to indicate the subject of a work, and more frequently employed to designate its central idea or thesis.
b. Plot is the organization of incidents. It is a purposeful progression of rationally interlinked events which end in the resolution of a climax. This means that a novelist must create a logical structure of events, in which nothing is irrelevant. In a good novel, its theme and its plot must be integrated. According to Aristotle, in the Poetics, plot is of two kinds, i.e unified plot (organic plot) and episodic plot (loose plot). A unified plot has a beginning (that which is not necessarily caused by something else but which produces other events), a middle (which derives from what has gone before and which something else must follow), and an end (something that depends on what has happened but which needs be followed by nothing else). An episodic plot is a plot which consists of a series of disconnected incidents, even though it may center on one figure.
c. Characterization is the portrayal of those essential traits which form the unique distinctive personality of an individual human being.
d. Style necessitates choice of words and choice of content.
The Chief Elements of a Novel are:
1. It deals with events and actions which constitute its plot.
2. It has characters i.e. men and women which carry on its action and to whom things happen.
3. The conversation of these characters constitutes the element of dialogue.
4. It has a scene and time of action i.e. the place and time where different things happen to different characters. It may be some limited region or its action may range over large number of places, cities, even countries.
5. Its treatment of life and its problems are realistic. Thus, it is realism which distinguishes it from the earlier prose romances. The novel does not provide escape from life and its problems, but rather a better understanding of them. It also reflects the very spirit of the age in which it is written.6. It exhibits the author’s views of life and of some of the problems of life. It thus gives the author’s criticism of life or his philosophy of life.