Development of NovelLiterature

Elements of Novel in English Literature

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There are four essential elements of a novel in English literature as;


The term ‘plot’ refers how the actions are arranged artistically in the novel. The actions in the novel are rendered and ordered artistically to achieve particular emotional and artistic effects. The actions include both verbal discourse as well as physical actions. Specific characters in work perform them. They are how they exhibit their moral and dispositional qualities. Plot and character are therefore interdependent critical concepts. According to Henry James,

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” A “story” is a basic synopsis of the temporal order of what happens in a work of literature. The story of a novel can be told by saying that first, this happens, then that, then that…. The story starts becoming the plot only when different matters are rendered, ordered, and organized to achieve particular effects.

There exist conflict in the plot:

a) the conflict between individual and individual;

b) the conflict between individual and society;

c) the conflict between against fate or the circumstances; and

d) the conflict opposing desires or values in the individual’s temperament.

As a plot progresses, it arouses expectations in the reader about the future course of events and actions and how they respond to them. A lack of certainty, on the part of a concerned reader, about what will happen to characters is known as suspense. If what happens violates any expectations we have formed, it is known as a surprise. Many realistic novels have this type of interplay of suspense and surprise. As a plot progresses, it arouses expectations in the reader about the future course of events and actions and how they respond to them. A lack of certainty, on the part of a concerned reader, about what will happen to characters is known as suspense. If what happens violates any expectations we have formed, it is known as a surprise. Many realistic novels have this type of interplay of suspense and surprise.

Read About: Rise and Development of Novel in English Literature

A plot is said to be “an artistic whole” if it is a complete and ordered structure of actions directed toward the intended effect. In such a plot, none of the essential parts, or incidents, is nonfunctional. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) is a classic example of a novel having a tightly integrated plot. Nevertheless, many picaresque narratives, such as Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), have an episodic plot structure.


A Character is a person presented in a novel. Characters have moral, dispositional, and emotional qualities. Such qualities are expressed in what they say (the dialogue) and by what they do. Their speech and actions depend upon their motivation. A Character may remain essentially “stable” from beginning to end of work (Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield). It may undergo a radical change through a gradual motivation and development process (the title character in Jane Austen’s Emma). Similarly, it may experience a radical change due to a crisis (Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectations).

E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927), talks about ‘flat’ and ’round’ characters. A flat character is built around “a single idea or quality.” It lacks individuality. Sometimes, it is described in a single phrase or sentence. A round character, on the contrary, is complex in temperament and motivation. It is represented with subtle particularity. Such a character is complicated to describe with any adequacy. Almost all novels have some flat characters. In the detective story or adventure novel, even the protagonist usually is two dimensional—for example, Sherlock Holmes. Artistically successful characters are three-dimensional.

There are two different methods for characterizing the persons in a novel: showing and telling. In showing (also called “the dramatic method”), the author presents the characters talking and acting. The reader has to infer what motives and dispositions lie behind what they say and do. In the telling, the author intervenes authoritatively to describe and often evaluate the motives and dispositional qualities of the characters.


As compared to the short story, the magnitude of the novel permits a greater variety of characters and a more significant complication of a plot (or plots) and an ampler development of milieu (place). The action of the novel takes place in some real or imaginary place.

Setting means a background. However, it may broadly be used in the social setting, the historical period, or the natural or physical location against which the novelist sets his novel. It may further be divided into two types: a) the concrete setting and b) the abstract setting. The concrete setting refers to the actual locale, whereas the abstract setting, to the community’s ethos. The novelist may choose either of these two or both simultaneously.

The novel’s setting can be a city, a village, or a street, or it can be the sea, the forest, the desert, or the planet. It gradually builds up a specific mood. It may play a character’s role or represent a social attitude or perform an agency for destruction.

The sea in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea assumes a character’s status because the older man looks upon the sea as a woman you are in love with.

Point of View:

The characters, actions, setting, and incidents constitute the narrative in the novel. Point of view is the mode (or modes) through which they are presented to the reader. Henry James, a critic, and novelist gave some attention to the point of view in novels. In his book The Craft of Fiction, Percy Lubbock took up the concept from Henry James and elaborated on it.

The concept of point of view is further divided into three categories:

a) First person point of view;

b) Second person point of view; and

c) Third-person point of view.

The first-person point of view in the novel gives us a personal view of the story. Hence this point of view is characterized by bias and subjectivity. Simultaneously, the first-person point of view allows us a more intense view of the story. Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, R. K. Narayan’s Guide, etc., make use of the first-person point of view.

The second person point of view is not much used in novels. When used, this point of view creates a very complex effect because the reader is told, as it were what he/she does. James McInnemy’s novel Bright Lights, Big City makes fascinating use of the second-person point of view.

The third-person point of view has been used quite often in novels. As it creates a certain distance between the reader and the narrated events, making the events sound more objective. This point of view is beneficial to tell of events separated in time and place. The majority of eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels made use of the third point of view. Examples are Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, etc.

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