I recall that a few years back a friend was explaining how novels can fall into various categories depending on what the focus of the story is.

For example, one category he mentioned was where the focus of the story was the Quest. There’s a goal to be achieved, an enemy to be defeated, and the story is about “Will they make it?” A good example would be Lord of the Rings.

Another category was one where the point of the story is the development of the characters. How do they think? How does what happen to them change who they are? The events of the story solely serve as stimuli for change. Good examples are Crime and Punishment and Ender’s Game.

Is there a name for that second category?

  • 1
    For your two categories, quest story and maybe Bildungsroman (also coming-of-age story). But there are lots and lots of categories and no agreed-on categorization.
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 5, 2021 at 15:45
  • Thanks! Want to post that as the answer? Jun 5, 2021 at 15:49
  • It might be better to split this up into two separate questions
    – bobble
    Jun 5, 2021 at 16:34
  • What would be the two questions? Jun 5, 2021 at 18:28
  • 1
    Christopher Booker argued that there are seven basic plots: fighting the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth. Also note that the terms "focus" and "narration" could lead you into a different direction, as "focus" in narratology is often used when refering to issues of narrative perspective, most notably in Genette's theory of focalisation. Jun 5, 2021 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


The closest widely used term is Bildungsroman. This terms is often translated as "coming-of-age novel" but sometimes also as "novel of growth" (Childs and Fowler) or "formation novel" (Cuddon), which sound less narrow. "Bildung" can mean education, learning or creation (in addition to other meanings that are not relevant here). However, the term "Erziehungsroman" (literally "education novel") is sometimes used for novels that focus on a character's formal education.

The The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms by Peter Childs and Roger Fowler (Routledge, 2006) defines Bildungsroman as

fiction detailing personal development or educational maturation.

Cuddon defines Bildungsroman as follows:

a novel which is the account of the youthful development of a hero or heroine (usually the former). It describes the process by which maturity is achieved through the various ups and downs of life.

Due to the traditional emphasis on "youthful development", the term will usually be seen as too narrow to describe novels that describe that focus on the development of their characters generally. German literary theory also knows the term Entwicklungsroman (literally "development novel"), which is sometimes regarded as a superset of the Bildungsroman. The Dutch Algemeen letterkundig lexicon treats the corresponding concept ontwikkelingsroman as a superset of Bildungsroman, Erziehungsroman (which may translated as "upbringing novel" to avoid confusion with Bildungsroman) and Künstlerroman (literally "artist novel"). Cuddon says "Bildungsroman" is more or less synonymous with "Erziehungsroman" and does not provide an entry for Entwicklungsroman. (Childs and Fowler don't discuss the Entwicklungsroman either.)

The term psychological novel does not fit perfectly because it does not automatically imply psychological development. According to Cuddon's definition, "psychological novel" is

a vague term to describe that kind of fiction which is for the most part concerned with the spiritual, emotional and mental lives of the characters and with the analysis of character rather than with the plot and the action.

(Thrall and Hibbard's older handbook has a longer entry for "psychological novel" that similarly does not discuss psychological development either.)

Conclusion: the term Entwicklungsroman would be the best fit if that term had been more widely accepted in the English-speaking world.


  • Childs, Peter; Fowler, Roger: The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms. Based on A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms, edited by Roger Fowler. London, New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Cuddon, J. A.: The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third edition. Penguin 1992.
  • Thrall, William Flint; Hibbard, Addison: A Handbook to Literature. With an Outline of Literary History English and American. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1936.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.