Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The X Factor

Paula asks what gives a novel the X factor.

The dictionary defines the X factor as “a quality that you cannot define that makes someone or something very special.” The judges on the X Factor reality shows claim to know which singers have this indefinable quality; the members of the public sometimes have different ideas.

The same applies to novels. I’m not talking about professional critics versus the reading public, but about how different people can have very different ideas about what gives a book the X factor.

Has anyone ever recommended a book highly to you –and then you’ve read it (or maybe just started to read it) and wondered whatever they saw in it? That happened to me recently, with an author whose books are always in the NYT Top Ten and who has millions of fans worldwide. I abandoned the book after about 10 pages, because I was too bored to read any more.

I’ve seen plenty of articles online that tell us the ‘essentials’ for a successful novel but, in the end, it’s not the writing tutor or even the writer who can pinpoint the X factor. It’s the readers – and, of course, their perceptions of the X-factor are individual to each of them.

As writers, we can’t hope to please all the readers all the time. All we can hope is that some of them find that indefinable quality in our stories.


  1. For me, personally, I think that "X factor" has a lot to do with voice. That's what draws me in.

    1. I think its a combination of many things, including the voice. Interestingly, I can define what makes me dislike a book far more easily than what makes me like one!

    2. I think some specific things can put me off a book (like too much description or stilted dialogue or cardboard characters with no depth etc) whereas I find it harder to analyse why some stories capture my imagination or my emotions. That's the indefinable quality!

  2. Reading preferences are so, so subjective. I agree that we can't please everyone all of the time. We just need to write a damn good book and hope it resonates with someone...hopefully many someones!