Keep is simple: The novel form
A novel is a long story (over 40, 000 words) told in prose. Despite being the most prominent storytelling structure today, novels are a relatively new creation (hence the term "novel"). In Classic and Medieval times, any long, complex story was told by either breaking it up into an anthology of shorter works (like the Greek Myths), turning the story into a cycle of several plays (like the Theban Cycle of Sophocles), or writing an epic in verse (like The Aneiad or Dante's Comedy). During this time, books had to be produced by hand, so any very long work was either religious in nature or performable to justify the cost. The first long-form work completely in prose was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote in 1605, but the form did not catch on until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Although the printing press was invented in Cervantes' time, most people could not afford to become writers, as work was often centered in small towns and families. When the Industrial Revolution led to both urbanization and the desire for escapism, there was both a market for new stories and a new middle class with time and incentive to write stories, and the novel dominated the writing market.
Short and sweet: Novellas
Until the rise of the novel, shorter prose works flourished. Most common was the short story, which is a prose work with a complete plot that is under 7,500 words long. A prose work longer than 7,500 but still under 17,500 words is called a novelette, and one between 17,500 and 40,000 is a novella. Novellas are preferred by many authors because they can examine a complex conflict or a subplot without the density of a full novel. While short stories and novellas are usually published as parts of an anthology, novellas are usually published on their own. Similarly, short story and novelette titles are quoted, while novella titles are underlined. After the rise of the novel, novellas became rarer (as most authors were paid by the word or sentence), but has regained popularity in recent years thanks to internet publishing, which values brevity. Famous novellas include Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, A Christmas Carol, Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Just the facts: Biography and creative nonfiction
Not all novels are fictional flights of fantasy. Any novel that tells a true story is called creative nonfiction. One of the most popular types of creative nonfiction is the biography, where an author tells the life story of a notable person using literary details such as dialogue and imagery. Note that creative nonfiction only applies to true stories told using narrative techniques; if a book does not follow one specific character or is completely didactic, it is an edifying text. There are several types of biographies:
- Strict biography tells the story of a single person or group of people. Though it is told as a story, it is expected to be extensively researched and must contain footnoted works cited. Examples of biography include Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, Ron Chernow's Hamilton, and Nancy Milford's Zelda.
- A memoir is the story about a short time in the author's life. Memoirs can be as long as a novel or as short as an essay. Memoirs contain true events with some fictionalized specifics, especially when it comes to names: to protect the author from libel suits (and their friends and family from unwanted fame), the names of people, places, and physical descriptions are usually altered, even though the story is still considered true. Unlike strict biographies, no citations are needed, as it depicts the author's own life. Examples of memoirs include Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors, and Elie Wiesel's Night.
- If a memoir spans the author's entire life, it is called an autobiography. Examples of memoirs include The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (composed posthumously by Alex Haley), and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
- A roman a clef ("novel with a key") is a biography or memoir where the author disguises true events with a facade of fiction. Every characters name is changed and locations are different, though the main events are still true. This way, an author can embellish real life events or claim true events didn't actually happen to avoid accusations of libel. Examples of roman a clef novels include The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Roman a clef's pop up in film too (film a clef), such as with Citizen Kane, Annie Hall, The Devil Wears Prada, and Dreamgirls.
- Additionally, some creative nonfiction seeks to inform readers about a thing or event but doesn't just tell the facts (like an edifying text). Instead, these writers of new journalism tell the story of how they discovered the facts and their journalistic research. This touches on memoir, as it looks at the author's journey, but is primarily about a topic outside of the author. New journalism differs from edifying text in that it uses narrative techniques and does discuss how the journalistic exprience changed the author. Examples of new journalism include Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff.
To the letter: Epistolary novels
An epistolary novel is, traditionally, a series of letters between one character and another that chronicles the story, but can also include diaries and blogs. Each section of an epistolary novel is introduced with a date an occasionally a time. An author sometimes chooses an epistolary format to augment a first-person telling by giving each event a history, making the endeavor seem more realistic. On the other hand, real diaries are edited and published retaining their epistolary format so the reader sees the history in more of a narrative sense rather than an edifying sense. Though entries are dated, they are not always in order, which an author does to create a sense of foreshadowing. Sometimes authors use sporadic epistolary entries in a novel to break up the action and tension or offer different perspectives; Stephen King does this in the novel Carrie where the story of Carrie White is broken up by news reports, letters, and court depositions. An epistolary novel can even take on the full appearance of an academic book even though it is entirely fictional, such as Roberto Bolano's Nazi History of the Americas. Popular epistolary novels include The Diary of Anne Frank, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dracula, and parts of Pride and Prejudice and Hope Leslie.
Picture this: Graphic literature
Some stories, especially those for children, are better told with actual images instead of prose imagery. Such literature is called graphic literature and falls into two categories: a picture book is a shorter work with little text intended for children, and a graphic novel takes a novella's amount of text and breaks it into a series of illustrated panels. While there are some novels with illustrations, such as editions of Dante's Inferno with the Gustave Dore etchings, these are not considered graphic literature as the illustrations do not tell the story: if they were removed, the story would still be complete. However, a true graphic novel integrates the visuals into communicating story information so the words alone do not tell the complete story. For more on graphic literature, click the link below.