What is a Novel?

What is a novel? I have a lot of people coming to Agile Writers not knowing what makes a book a novel (and not a short story or an essay or some other form). At Agile Writers we believe these things define a novel:

  1. The Agile Novel is Fiction
  2. The Agile Novel is Genre Fiction
  3. The Agile Novel is Hero-based
  4. The Agile Novel is 60,000 words (or 250 pages)
  5. The Agile Novel is Commercially Viable

1) The Agile Novel is Fiction

A novel is not the telling of actual events. For example, a novel is not an autobiography. An autobiography is a retelling of the events of a person’s life. The Agile Writer Method doesn’t work for these types of books because, frankly, unless you’re famous or infamous, most people aren’t going to want to read your life story.

The Agile Writer Method has been used to create memoirs with some success. The problem is that the author has to convert their closely held personal stories into a fictional account. Most people don’t want to alter their true-to-life stories to fit the fictional narrative.

2) The Agile Novel is Genre Fiction

At Agile Writers we divide literature into two categories – literary fiction
and genre fiction.

Literary fiction focuses on the characters in the story. It looks for depth and style. Literary fiction is constantly expanding the novel art form. This is the form of novel-writing that people go to universities to study and get a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA). We don’t attempt literary fiction at Agile Writers.

Genre fiction (or popular fiction) is plot-driven. It is a series of events that unfold to tell a story. The Agile Novel is genre fiction. Now that’s not to say that a literary novel doesn’t have a plot. It may. It’s just that the focus is on the internal thoughts, desires, and dreams of the characters. Good examples of literary novels are To Kill a Mockingbird or A Catcher in the Rye. These are stories that focus on the internal lives of their main characters.

Genre fiction focuses more intently on the events of the story, on the plot. At Agile Writers we analyze our story from the point of view of the events in the story and plot them out for a particular outcome. A genre fiction novel falls into one of several popular types of stories (mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc…)

3) An Agile Novel Is Hero-Based

The Hero’s Journey is a time-tested pattern for story telling. It involves a main character (the hero or protagonist) who is introduced in his ordinary world. Some inciting incident occurs that throws the hero into a new and uncharted place or situation (the special world). The hero must learn the rules of the special world and find the object of his desire. Once the object is found, the hero then must journey home to his ordinary world to tell of his journey.

4) An Agile Novel Is 60,000 Words

At Agile Writers we consider a novel to be 60,000 words (or around 250 pages). The reason is that when you take your book to a publisher, they won’t want to publish a book that is much less than 250 pages. There are economies of scale that make publishing smaller works less profitable. On the other hand, most publishers won’t want to take a chance publishing a work from a first-time author that is a tome of 800+ pages. So, we shoot for 250 pages.

5) An Agile Novel Is Commercially Viable

At Agile Writers we aim to create a work that is commercially viable. That is, it is a book that the public at large would want to read. There are writers who are writing for the pleasure of writing itself. They don’t care if their work is appreciated by a larger audience. However, we’re aiming to help writers create a novel that others will want to read. So, as a writer you will want to pick a specific demographic to write to. You’ll want to think about the age, gender, and educational level of your reader as well as the genre you want to write in.

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