[ nov-uhl ]
/ ˈnɒv əl /
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a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.
(formerly) novella (def. 1).
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Origin of novel

First recorded in 1560–70; from Italian novella (storia) “new (story)”; see origin at novel2


nov·el·like, adjective

Other definitions for novel (2 of 3)

[ nov-uhl ]
/ ˈnɒv əl /

of a new and unusual kind; different from anything seen or known before: a novel idea.
not previously detected or reported: the emergence of novel strains of the virus.

Origin of novel

First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English, from Anglo-French, Middle French novel, from Old French novel, nouvel, from Latin novellus “fresh, young, novel,” diminutive of novus “new”; see origin at new

synonym study for novel

See new.

Other definitions for novel (3 of 3)

[ nov-uhl ]
/ ˈnɒv əl /

Roman Law.
  1. an imperial enactment subsequent and supplementary to an imperial compilation and codification of authoritative legal materials.
  2. Usually Novels , imperial enactments subsequent to the promulgation of Justinian's Code and supplementary to it: one of the four divisions of the Corpus Juris Civilis.
Civil Law. an amendment to a statute.

Origin of novel

First recorded in 1605–15; from Late Latin novella (constitūtiō) “a new (regulation, order)”; see origin at novel2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a novel?

A novel is a long work of fiction written in prose that tells a narrative involving characters and usually involving an organized set of actions occurring in a setting.

Let’s break that down. Fiction is a type of writing (literature) that involves characters that don’t exist or people (usually famous) who have been reimagined (fictionalized). The events in fiction are made up, or, in the case of historic events, were fictionalized.

Prose is the ordinary manner of writing that we use, that is, using complete sentences and not poetic verses. A narrative is a telling of events or experiences. Stories and essays are narratives.

A setting is a story’s location and time. Some novels take place in our own time and place, while others take place in the past, in another country, in the future, and even in space or on other planets (real or made-up).

Length is usually the key difference between works of fiction. While there are no official rules, a novel is generally at least 50,000 words, and many novels are much longer than this. By contrast, a short story is often 1,000 to 10,000 words, although flash fiction can be as short as 500 words. A novella (a short novel) is somewhere in between a short story and a novel.

Why is novel important?

The first records of the word novel referring to literature come from around 1560. It comes from the Italian world novella, meaning “a new story.” At first, novel referred to a collection of stories in one work or one of these stories. Over time, it began to refer specifically to long-form fiction and novella was adopted to describe the medium-length work of fiction.

Because of its length, a novel is usually more complex than shorter fictional works. Novels usually have many characters and a bigger setting. This allows the author to create bigger, more complex stories. Some stories are so big that it takes a series of novels to tell them, as with the Harry Potter series.

Some examples of novels many students read in school include Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Lord of the Flies.

Did you know ... ?

The Tale of Genji by Japanese author Murasaki Shikibu around 1010 is considered by many people to be the first novel. The novel stars Prince Genji and his life in the Japanese imperial court.

What are real-life examples of novel?

This is the cover of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, an example of a classic novel.

Many people dream of writing a great novel.


What other words are related to novel?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT a trait of a novel?

A. it is a work fiction
B. it is short
C. it is written in prose
D. it involves a complex narrative

How to use novel in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for novel (1 of 3)

/ (ˈnɒvəl) /

an extended work in prose, either fictitious or partly so, dealing with character, action, thought, etc, esp in the form of a story
the novel the literary genre represented by novels
(usually plural) obsolete a short story or novella, as one of those in the Decameron of Boccaccio

Word Origin for novel

C15: from Old French novelle, from Latin novella (narrātiō) new (story); see novel ²

British Dictionary definitions for novel (2 of 3)

/ (ˈnɒvəl) /

of a kind not seen before; fresh; new; originala novel suggestion

Word Origin for novel

C15: from Latin novellus new, diminutive of novus new

British Dictionary definitions for novel (3 of 3)

/ (ˈnɒvəl) /

Roman law a new decree or an amendment to an existing statuteSee also Novels
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for novel


A long, fictional narration in prose. Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn are novels, as are War and Peace and Lord of the Flies.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.