Notes on the NOVEL as FORM
DEFINITION—a novel is a prose fiction to be read in more than one sitting, containing a complete and complex ACTION. Think of the novel as a whole as a design or structure in which each element plays an important part and contributes to the overall development of the complete action. As students of literature, we assess the relationship between each of the parts (characters, scenes, ideas, etc) and the whole, the form of the entire novel.
ACTION—structured beginning, middle, and end; prior stability, introduction of instability, complications (generally posing THREAT to the happiness of the characters we care most about), leading ultimately to a new, more permanent stability; working out of the complications and the new stability constitutes the PLOT.
PLOT—a meaningful arrangement of events linked in a logical chain of cause and effect; each event builds on what came before and leads to what happens next. These events are dramatized to the reader in a series of SCENES.
SCENE—the building block of plot. Each scene contains a single event allowing the CHARACTERS to interact with each other, forming new relationships, building or resolving problems.
CHARACTER—are related to each other (and to the reader) by problems we as readers care about. These problems, and the natures of the characters themselves, determine the events of the novel. In this way, plot is seen as organic, growing out of character. Characters also invite us to form judgments or their words and actions, largely on moral grounds. We approve or disapprove of the characters as they meet or fail to match the implied moral and ethical standards of the novel itself and of its readers. SECONDARY characters remain much the same throughout the novel in values, behavior, and attitude; thus they are largely FLAT or STATIC in their portrayal. PRIMARY characters, on the other hand, should change as a result of their experiences; they must be capable of moral, psychological, or social growth. That growth occurs as a result of the SCENES they participate in, and it leads to the ultimate RESOLUTION of the central problem. Thus they are ROUND or DYNAMIC in their development throughout the course of the novel.
RESOLUTION—the combined purpose of all the scenes in the novels is that the characters’ problems must be resolved in the end, and the resolution should depend more on the characters themselves (their moral qualities and our expectations for them as characters) rather than on chance events, coincidence, or random circumstance. Resolution may occur TRAGICALLY, if characters we come to care about are destroyed by their own shortcomings or the actions of others, or COMICALLY, if characters we care about are rewarded in the end with happiness and the characters who pose THREAT to that happiness are ultimately rendered harmless or ineffective. The author’s ability to resolve these problems appropriately gives us as readers a sense of CLOSURE at the end of the novel.