From the abbreviated OED (the only version I can afford) the first listing for the word is:
- Novel – Something new, a novelty
- The second definition is – Any of a number of tales or fictional narratives making up a larger short work,
- The third definition is – A fictitious prose narrative or tale of considerable length . . . representing character and action with some degree of realism.
A novel needs to be new, larger than a short work and offer some degree of realism. This is where the complaint, “the characters weren’t believable” comes from. This is where we get up in the idea that our plots and action need to make sense.
And we’re right. They do.
But more important, the novel, the characters and action, need to make sense within the world of that novel.
So when we suggest a degree of realism that does not mean you can’t create a fabulous fantasy world and populate it with two-headed beings who always disagree. It does not mean you can’t re-create OZ. What the definition of real, both by the OED and in your reader’s head, means is your world needs to make sense, and you need to make the rules of your world fairly clear at the onset in order for the reader to believe the ending.
The art in how you do this. Don’t launch into a lengthy description of the rules of your world. Do not give the reader pages of back story, how the world was invented, who was responsible. And beware the lengthy dialogue during which the space ship engineers says, “Well Jim, as you know, during the process of energy transference at light warp speed, the individual may or may not turn into a creature with two disagreeing heads.”
The art of world creation is to weave in the points of the world in between the action. Pay attention, allow the reader to figure out a few features as the story carries them through, and surprise the reader as you set up the plot.
Novels are something new. That’s what you get to create. But ironically, even something new needs to fit into our old way of understanding the world.
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