I recently read a book that was described as a novelization of a true story. Based on that description, I had several expectations for the story—a structured plot, some character development, incorporating the senses, etc. Instead, I got some history, some explanations, and several chapters of helpful information, but no story.
Overall, the book disappointed me. I wanted to get pulled into the characters heads; to experience their lives with them; to be transported into their homes and situations—everything I expect from a novel. But that book wasn’t a novel, and it never should have been labeled that way.
But, but … it had dialogue! It was written in third person!
Yes, it was, but that doesn’t make it a novel. A book needs to meet certain requirements before you can call it a novel; without those things, you have a creative or narrative retelling, but you do not have a novel.
What does a book need, then, to be considered a novel? Whether you’ve created everything or are telling someone else’s true story, a novel needs:
- Plot Structure (three acts work well)
- Characterization (including GMCs and character arcs)
- Engaging writing that creates mental pictures
Take all of those, organize them well, and POOF! A novel. If you’re lacking any of these things, you’re probably not writing a novel. How can you tell?
- The dialogue doesn’t add to the story; it’s just there.
- You have whole chapters of information without showing the characters do anything.
- Your book is more about giving information than it is about entertaining the reader.
If the above bullet points describe your book, it doesn’t mean you have a bad book—it just means you’re not writing a novel. These subtleties make a big difference when you’re marketing your book. It’s important to understand the difference, because mislabeling your book (and thereby mis-advertising it) can set you up for failure.
Take the book I recently read: if it had been called a narrative or creative retelling, it would have been a pretty good book. I would have been better prepared for the history lessons and lack of structure. Because I wanted to read a novel, however, it disappointed me. As much as I wanted to leave a good review, I couldn’t because I didn’t have a good experience reading the book (I do still recommend the book, but I tell people it’s not a novel).
Don’t stop writing your book and don’t change your style. Just know what you’re writing so you can get it into the hands of the right audience.
Have you ever read a good book that disappointed you? What happened?
Are you interested in learning more? Would you like to receive tips and special offers sent directly to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter today, and receive your FREE copy of Simple Tips for Finding the Right Editor!