Novels are about emotion. That’s the basic principle behind all art. It’s reason for existence is to capture the human experience, and to create in the reader some sort of emotional reaction.
There the basic similarity ends. No two novels deliver their emotions with the same punch. Some creep up behind you, wheedle themselves into your consciousness. Some hit you over the head and drag you away.
There are novels where every word on the page is about emotion. Every line, sentence, and punctuation mark is about connecting with the reader and delivering an experience. I’m not talking about Hemingway vs. Faulkner here, about simplicity vs. complexity. In fact, I’d say Faulkner definitely aims to deliver emotional baggage with every paragraph.
Maybe it’s a plot thing. Or characters. Or something indefinable about writing styles. But there are novels that are all about making a visceral contact with the reader. Tennessee Williams in his short stories did this. So did Arundhati Roy in her one-hit wonder of a novel.
And then there are novels like the last one I read, “A Fine Balance.” It actually reminded me of “Anna Karenina,” sometimes very forcefully. Those novels, some of which are realist, are about pouring out endless words. Words, words, words. Information fills every single page, familiarizing the patient reader with every single aspect of a life, or two lives, or three.
It’s hard to say if one of these approaches is better. Neither is easy. One starts with emotions and then uses them to move to character, the other establishes character and plot and then moves to emotions.