this is just a summary of the long thread "the novel from a to z"
What is a novel ?
Novel is along work of written fiction. Most novels involve many characters and tell a complex story by placing the characters in a number of different situations.
Because novels are long—generally 200 pages or more—novelists can tell more richly detailed tales than can authors of briefer literary forms such as the short story. Many readers consider the novel the most flexible type of literature, and thus the one with the most possibilities. For example, writers can produce novels that have the tension of a drama, the scope of an epic poem, the type of commentary found in an essay, and the imagery and rhythm of a lyric poem. Over the centuries writers have continually experimented with the novel form, and it has constantly evolved in new directions.
The word novel came into use during the Renaissance (14th century to 17th century), when Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio applied the term novella to the short prose narratives in his Il decamerone (1353; Ten Day’s Work). When his tales were translated, the term novel passed into the English language. The word novella is now used in English to refer to short novels.
Like the short story, the novel tells a story, but unlike the short story, it presents more than an episode. In a novel, the writer has the freedom to develop plot, characters, and theme slowly. The novelist can also surround the main plot with subplots that flesh out the tale. Unlike short stories, most novels have numerous shifts in time, place, and focus of interest.
To create a fictional world that seems real to the reader, novelists use five main elements: plot, characters, conflict, setting, and theme.
The plot is the novel’s story and its underlying meaning. Therefore, when a reader describes the plot of a novel, the reader should describe both what happens to the characters and the meaning of these events. Plots can be anything the writer dreams up, from narratives so realistic that they seem like nonfiction to tales of the fantastic, such as science-fiction works that involve distant worlds.
The plot of a novel is the narrative and thematic development of the story—that is, what happens and what these events mean
There are several types of plots.
An episodic plot
features distinct episodes that are related to one another but that can also be read individually, almost as stories by themselves
American writer Mark Twain used an episodic plot in his classic novel Huckleberry Finn (1884), about Huck Finn, a boy who runs away from his hometown and voyages down the Mississippi River on a raft with an escaped slave named Jim. The episodes in Huckleberry Finn revolve around the points when Huck and Jim leave their raft and meet people in the towns and villages that border the river. In between these episodes, they retreat to their raft and contemplate their experiences as they drift south on the water.
more complicated type of episodic novel is the bildungsroman, a novel about the early years of a person’s life, or a person’s moral or psychological growth. (The term comes from the German for “education novel.”) The bildungsroman traces not adventures but stages of growth in the life of a character. Famous novels of this type include David Copperfield (1849-1850), in which English novelist Charles Dickens traces David’s life from childhood misery to worldly success.
Many novels have more complex plots that follow more than one major character or have more than one major story line.
The subject matter that novels with complex plot can cover is almost limitless. Some novels, like War and Peace, cover all segments of society. Others, such as Pride and Prejudice (1813) by English author Jane Austen, cover narrower subject matter. Austen’s novel is set in roughly the same time period as War and Peace. However, Pride and Prejudice focuses on one upper-class family, the Bennets, and in particular on the Bennet daughters’ search for husbands.
Plots Focusing on Character
Another kind of plot relies more on character than on action. Little action happens, but the subtle quality of the few events and, more crucially, the characters' feelings about them, form the essence of the story.
American writer Henry James uses a very simple plot in The Ambassadors (1903), which also focuses on character. Lambert Strether, a middle-aged New Englander, travels to Paris, France, to fetch a young man whose mother is worried about what seems to her to be Europe's decadent influence. The “ambassador,” Strether, falls under the spell of the city and becomes enchanted with the young man’s mistress. Instead of sending explanations back to the United States, Strether spends his time exploring Europe; the book’s plot focuses on his development as an individual.
Experiments with Plots
Some authors experiment with plot by not providing a clearly definable beginning, middle, and end to the story
In the 20th century writers began to alter the flow of the plot more often foe example James Joyce
The characters of a book are the fictional figures who move through the plot. They are invented by the author and are made of words rather than of flesh and blood. Therefore they cannot be expected to have all the attributes of real human beings. Nevertheless, novelists do try to create fictional people whose situations affect the reader as the situations of real people would.
Authors describe the more simple characters in novels with no more than a few phrases that identify the character’s most important traits. These characters have little capacity for personal growth, and they appear in the novel as limited but necessary elements of the plot. Despite their small parts, such characters are often vivid.severely limited and could not carry a narrative by themselves, they provide a mechanism for the novelist to portray certain ideas or points of view.
more complex type of character is the mythic figure, who corresponds to an individual from ancient myth or to a shared human experience that is handed down in myths and stories.
stream of consciousness, a literary technique in which authors represent the flow of sensations and ideas, added to the depth of character portrayal. English novelist Virginia Woolf followed this approach to explore the characters of an Englishwoman
The plot of a novel unfolds as the novel’s characters deal with conflict. The conflict may be of various types. It may be physical between two characters. For example, Les misérables (1862) by French novelist Victor Hugo .Conflict can also occur within a character’s own mind, as that character struggles internally a character with inner turmoil
Most novelists draw the reader in by having the novel’s conflict develop over time. The reader sees the situation that provokes the conflict, the development of the conflict from episode to episode, and then the climax and the resolution of the conflict. As the tension builds toward the main conflict, the author may introduce subplots that create and resolve other points of conflict. Some novelists reverse the reader’s expectations by describing the aftermath of the story, then going back in time to reveal how the characters arrived at that point.
The setting of a novel—the time and place of its action—is crucial to the creation of a complete work. Physical places such as deserts and outer space, as well as cultural settings such as hospitals and universities, help determine characters’ conflicts, aspirations, and destinies.
Sometimes novelists make time and place so essential to the narrative that they become as important as the characters themselves.
A novel’s theme is the main idea that the writer expresses. Theme can also be defined as the underlying meaning of the story.
The theme of a novel is more than its subject matter, because an author’s technique can play as strong a role in developing a theme as the actions of the characters do .A common theme in novels is the conflict between appearance and reality.Throughout the history of the novel, a major theme has been whether people can change their situations in life or whether they are in the grips of forces beyond their control.
Other common themes in novels include how art and life are reflected in one another, the meaning of religion, and whether technology helps people or whether it is a harmful aspect of society