Is a Novel always Fiction? Curiously, not necessarily.
To discover if a novel is always fiction, it will be helpful to address a different question, “Is a novel the same as a story?” Stay with me on this, because it will help you understand my answer when I come back to the original question.
- Is a novel the same as a story? No. A novel is a story telling convention – an accepted (expected) way of presenting a long form story. These are the elements of a novel that any novelist must address:
- Plot development – the way a plot develops, using one or more story arcs.
- Story beats – plot developments that are unique to the novelist’s chosen genre (type of story). These will sit on the story arc(s).
- Reveals – plot points and/or story beats that show how the story/character(s) is developing, or information that answers a question intrinsic to the plot, or information that sends the plot in a new direction. These also sit on the story arc(s).
- Character development – How something about the main protagonist and/or antagonist, and possibly other characters too, develops from the beginning to the end of the novel. These are reveals that sit on the story arc.
- Sub plots – additional smaller plots, woven round the main plot, that involve supporting characters or themes, these may mirror, highlight complement, or contrast the main plot. Sub plots may or many not interact with the main plot. they will have their own story beats and reveals.
- Theme – an over arching idea/subject/focus/symbolism of the novel. Sometimes a theme develops despite or in-spite of the author’s intentions/design.
Now back to your original question, “Is a novel always fiction?” No.
Here’s why, because, some or all of the story telling conventions that are used in a novel, can also be used (I would argue should be used) in constructing an interesting non-fiction book too, particularly a biography or autobiography.
This is one reason why some autobiographies about people we have never heard of are absolutely fascinating and why some about celebrities are as dull as mud: the non-celebrity knows what theme/message/argument/development they wish to communicate and uses novel writing techniques to achieve their aim. The result is a non-fiction book that is compelling, entertaining, and readable – technically a novel, but not fiction.