Nowhere in the definition of "novel" does it say you need an outline. Yet every time I set out to write a novel, for some reason I am required by some sort of unwritten law that I must have an outline. I must have characters, settings, and situations planned out. However, this simply has never worked for me. Yes, I know there are plenty of novelists out there who eschew outlines entirely. But this seemingly forced "requirement" that your novel follow some sort of easily identifiable structure really bothers me, and in fact, infuriates me.
Every time that I go to write stories, I tend to have several different plots sort of intermingling with one another. It's sort of like writing a soap opera, I suppose. There is a lot of drama that goes on in several different directions in my story. It's not that I purposefully write in this way; it just happens for whatever reason. Our world is so full of constant drama that it's extremely hard not to imitate it in fiction. After all, you do have to give your writing some sort of realism so that people are able to relate to it.
So, I must say, I love the broad Oxford Dictionary definition of "novel" because nowhere there does it give any sort of restrictions on how to actually go about it. Yet, here we go with all these rules being forced on aspiring novelists and I keep reading the same "tips" over and over again. No wonder no one gets published. Everything starts looking the same after a while! I'm not saying there's nothing original anymore - far from it. It's more that the original stuff is so original that it gets rejected because it "may not sell" and agents and publishers can't risk "wasting time" on original thinking. Boo.
It always seemed to me that I should just write whatever ebbs and flows at the time. Obviously, for journals and poems, this has always worked fairly well for me. Sure, I produce a bunch that I later discard, but that happens with any sort of writing. But when it comes to novels, you have to accept that a lot will be written that won't be used at all. For whatever reason, I just hate throwing anything out and I try to force it in. Hence, this is why I've never been able to write a novel. I can't just make it all fit into a nice flowing narrative. It's just not within me, unless I find someone to smooth it over for me - then, it won't really be my story, you know?
Really, the point I'm trying to make is that if you want to be a novelist, focus more on the writing itself than how it's structured. It's true when they say, as you write the story takes on a life of its own. If it doesn't, then there's something wrong and you have to go back to the drawing board. The problem is with me that my definition of novel is something like "something new and crazy that I don't think anyone has ever read before or will ever read again." But it seems clear to me that the idea of "novel" has become so niched into genres and sub-genres. You have to follow all these rules which horribly stifle creativity.
Novels should always be about innovation, which is why the great fiction books became called novels in the first place. But nowadays, everyone thinks they have to publish the next great novel. Just focus on writing what you have to say and don't worry about conventions or even getting published through mass media. If something is truly good, it will find its way out there through self-published channels eventually. That's how I look at it.
This is why I no longer aspire to be a novelist, per se. I just write what I write. I just want books to not always have to have a romance, or suspense, or drama, or all of those things. It just has to have something imitating real life, and real life can be very scary and very confounding at times. I'd rather read something introspective than something that might be made into a blockbuster film in a few years. But perhaps this is just my preference.
How would you define novel, and what do you think it means to write one?