I am a novelist. In the same way that a pianist is a pianist because he plays music on the piano, I am a novelist because I have written 12 novels and published eleven of them. I am not a professional novelist. I have made $1.75 in royalty payments for August 2019. But not being a successful writer for money does not prevent me from being a novelist.
So, don’t be surprised when I say that I have strong opinions about what a novel is and what it should be.
First of all, a novelist must also be an avid reader. Not merely a reader of other novels by other novelists, but of anything and everything. Essays, plays, non-fiction books about a wide array of factual things, and pseudo-factual things, and conjecture, and conspiracy theories, and poetry, and science books, and Mark Twain, and Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens, and Ray Bradbury, and comic books, and graphic novels, and more, and more, and more… for as long as your brain shall work. A novelist should try to read everything, because to be a good novelist, you must know everything. Certainly you must know far more than what you actually write down into novel form.
A good novelist must be good at short fiction as well. Because a novel is more than just one story. It is made up of parts. I call them Cantos. Most writers call them Chapters.
But whatever you call them, or even if you don’t give them separate titles or sections in the novel, they are like short stories in themselves. They must have their own lead sentence, their own beginning, middle, and end. They must have their own end line, or punch line, or thesis statement. And they must have, by their end, a point to make about setting, plot, character, or theme.
A novel is layer cake of little stories, each layered upon other layers, and all baked together into the same over-arching cake.
And a novel, when it is published, is never really done. Sequels, prequels, and serialization are always possible and sometimes even necessary. Rewrites and new editions are also a thing. And even in the mind of the reader, the novel never really ceases to have an effect. I still carry around A Tale of Two Cities in my head everywhere I go, and through everything I do, even when I am writing my own novels. Sidney Carton is very much alive to me, even though he dies at the end of the novel.
So, there you have it. A bunch of burbling about novels from an unsuccessful novelist. For whatever it is worth, I am truly a novelist. And I do not apologize for being that sort of low-down, despicable sort of human being.