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
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
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.