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Il decamerone, lyric poem, epic poem, short novels, new directions

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Novel, long 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.

Future of the Novel

At the beginning of the 21st century, the novel, one of the most flexible of literary forms, remains a powerful way for authors to represent the human experience both on the individual level and on the societal level. In countries all over the world, writers use the novel to give insight into people’s actions, ideas, and aspirations. Novelists keep the form fresh by continuing to explore subject matter of vital interest to readers and by constantly innovating in form and technique. For five centuries the novel has been one of the most important ways for writers to comment on the human condition, and it shows no signs of weakening.


Madden, David, B.S., M.A.

Donald and Yelvia Crumbley Professor of Creative Writing, Lousiana State University. Author of "A Primer of the Novel", "Revising Fiction" and nine novels.

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