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What does a Novelist do?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A novelist is a creative writer who specializes in long form fiction writing, as opposed to the shorter forms such as poetry, essays or short stories. A novelist creates fictional characters, then places them within the context of an imaginary setting. The place and time of a novel may be based in reality, but the story's plot development is generally created strictly by the author's imagination. A typical novel is several hundred pages in length, although a shorter form called a novella may have a smaller word count. A novelist not only writes the book-length narrative, but also does the research required to give the novel some authenticity.

While some writers may start out with a concept for a full-length novel, many novelists begin their writing careers by working in journalism or other nonfiction writing venues. Others study creative writing and literature in college, then earn their degrees in creative writing, journalism or literary studies. Working on a novel can be a time-consuming and expensive process, so many writers work on their larger works while pursuing other personal or professional interests. A novelist may establish himself or herself first in a field such as short stories, poetry, humor or essays before taking on the added workload of a novel. Once an author becomes established in the novel genre, however, he or she may decide to concentrate solely on specific genres of novel writing. Horror writer Stephen King, for example, produces novels in the horror or fantasy genres, while John Grisham produces novels in the crime genre.

A novelist generally needs to develop a concept strong enough to be sustained over the length of a novel. This often involves inventing compelling main characters, the protagonist and antagonist, along with a supportive cast of characters. In the Harry Potter series, for example, novelist JK Rowling had to invent an entirely new world, filled with any number of magical instructors, students, evil spirits and customs. Exploring each character and situation in that fictional landscape would indeed require hundreds of thousands of words, and could be perpetuated almost indefinitely. Novelists such as J.R.R. Tolkien and CS Lewis also created fictional landscapes with numerous characters in their series of novels as well. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series and Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series are both examples of successful novel writing.

Many novelists also become recognized experts in their genres, since they spend a considerable amount of time doing research for upcoming novels. A novelist who specializes in the true crime genre, for instance, often provides background information for law enforcement officers and documentary producers. Other novelists may become consultants for movie companies looking for period authenticity or other genre-specific details. A successful novelist can become a notable public figure in his or her own right, as in the case of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote or Norman Mailer. Others may struggle for years to get a single novel manuscript read or published. Some novelists work in relative obscurity throughout their lifetimes, but become more popular after their work is discovered posthumously.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Practical Adult Insights, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Rundocuri — On Jan 28, 2014

I think many people who enjoy reading and also are inspired to write dream about becoming novelists. Though writing a book is a major project, it is also very rewarding to turn your thoughts and talents into words as a new novelist. As any famous novelist would do, if you are thinking about writing your first novel, start by writing down thoughts and ideas that you would like to share with your audience.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Practical Adult Insights, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to...
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