ARTICLE - Five Elements of a Great Novel

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ARTICLE - Five Elements of a Great Novel

Post  Vincent Law on Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:53 pm

Writers have a special talent of seeing beyond the obvious and the ordinary. They can breathe life into lifeless images and transform them into something so real and beautiful that readers are transported into a different world where it is difficult to tell the real from the unreal. But then there are bad writers and good writers. So what makes some writers better raconteurs than others? What factors make some stories better than others?

Plot/Storyline: A plot is the sum-total of the novel. The most famous writers have almost always developed their novel from the thread of an idea or a fragment of a story. A plot encompasses all the events in a story particularly rendered toward the achievement of some particular theme or conveyance of an idea.

Characters: Characters are the moving blocks in a novel. May it be people - like in almost all fiction; animals (The Chronicles of Narnia), or supernatural, fairytale beings (Harry Potter series/The Lord of the Rings), characters are the participants in the story.

Within the characters, there is a broad range of categorization based on their nature, approach to issues, and attitude within the story. They can be protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters, or foil characters – each serving a specific purpose within the story.

Analyses of great novels have revealed that the most remembered characters of all times are the ones with whom the readers can identify with, be it the dignified and classy heroines of Anton Chekhov, the fiery and passionate ones of Sidney Sheldon, the brave and courageous heroes of J.R.R Tolkien, the average everyday medical personnel of Robin Cook, the smart and witty lawyers of John Grisham, or the innocent children of Oscar Wilde novels. Undoubtedly, characters play a huge role in deciding whether a novel belongs in the ‘great’ category.

Setting: The place and the time at which the story takes place also determine its success. Setting is the locale and time of a story – often a real place, it may also be a fictitious city or country within our own world; a different planet; or an alternate universe!

In case of magical, supernatural fiction like that portrayed in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, the authors succeed in bringing to life a totally new and different setting in terms of both place and time. The places and their descriptions are so real that full-fledged, detailed maps can be drawn from the writer’s illustrations in these novels. In case of a setting that is real and familiar to the readers, it is essential that the writer does justice to the existing place and time by means of thorough research.

Style of writing: This is certainly is the most complex of the five elements of a great novel and therefore considerable time and effort has to go into this aspect. The style of writing is a culmination of the numerous choices a writer makes during the whole process of writing his novel. This aspect should ideally evolve during the writing process keeping the big picture in mind, as well as considering components like point of view, choice of narrator, and tactical choices. Use of grammar, punctuation, words, sentences, structure, tone, imagery, and linguistic devices all fall under this category and they combine to become the writer’s unique ‘voice’.

Theme: Closely linked with the plot or the storyline of the novel, the theme is what the author is trying to tell the reader. This can be the victory of good over evil or how things are not always as they seem. Arguably, writers succeed in conveying their ideas through the theme of the novel. Even though the theme does not necessarily have to be in accordance with the existing social conditions, it is generally so.

These are the five primary aspects of a great novel. But nothing will hold them together in the absence of that magical thing called imagination. It is the true force that drives the human race forward and it is certainly one true saving grace of the human condition. A novel cannot attain success without imagination from the writer’s part.

Dhanya Mathew
Vincent Law
Vincent Law
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