Novel Complexity (Labels)

Labels are a way to indicate the strength of a novel. This is a combination of plot, langugae, ideas, and number of pages. To indicate novels in such a system will always be controversial. What may be an easy read for one, might be a difficult read for somebody else. However, students often ask me which novels are seen as ‘strong’ on their reading list. This system might help students in answering that question.

Orange Label: Novels categorized under the Orange Label are accessible and suitable for readers with a B1 CEFR level. They have a straightforward plot with clear progression and a manageable number of characters and subplots. The language used is simple and easily understandable, allowing readers to follow the story without significant difficulty. The ideas presented are generally straightforward and relatable, exploring common themes in a relatable manner.

NB: for my students, only one orange novel is allowed on your reading list.

Green Label: Novels falling under the Green Label require a B2(/C1) CEFR level of language proficiency. They feature a more complex and engaging plot, with multiple layers and interwoven storylines. The language used is more advanced, incorporating richer vocabulary and more nuanced sentence structures. The ideas explored are thought-provoking and delve into deeper themes, requiring readers to engage with abstract concepts and analyze the narrative on a deeper level.

NB: For my students, this is the average VWO level for reading novels.

Blue Label: Novels labeled with the Blue Label are intended for readers with a (B2/)C1(/C2) CEFR level of language proficiency. They feature intricate plot structures with compolicated character development and layered narratives. The language used is sophisticated and expressive, employing advanced vocabulary and complex sentence structures. The ideas explored are intellectually challenging, addressing profound philosophical questions and exploring complex themes that demand critical thinking and analysis from readers.

Purple Label: Novels designated with the Purple Label are meant for readers with a C2 CEFR level of language proficiency. They showcase the highest level of complexity in terms of plot, language, and ideas. The plot may be highly intricate, non-linear, or experimental, pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling. The language used is exceptionally rich and evocative, employing literary techniques and stylistic devices to create a heightened reading experience. The ideas explored are profound, abstract, and often explore the depths of human existence, challenging readers’ perspectives and pushing the boundaries of conventional narratives.



The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) scale primarily focuses on language proficiency and does not have direct correlations to novels or their difficulty levels. However, a general description of each level in relation to reading and understanding novels can be given:

B1 – Threshold or Intermediate level: At this level, individuals can understand simple novels and stories with straightforward language and familiar topics. They can follow the main plot and grasp the basic ideas and events in the story. They may need to look up some words or phrases but can generally comprehend the overall meaning.

B2 – Vantage or Upper-Intermediate level: Individuals at this level can read and comprehend novels with more complex language and themes. They can understand detailed descriptions, character development, and subtle nuances in the text. They have a good command of vocabulary and grammar, allowing them to navigate through a wider range of literature.

C1 – Effective Operational Proficiency or Advanced level: At this level, individuals can comfortably read and understand novels of considerable length and complexity. They can engage with intricate plotlines, multifaceted characters, and sophisticated language usage. They have a broad vocabulary and a solid grasp of grammar, enabling them to fully appreciate and analyze the literary aspects of the novel.

C2 – Mastery or Proficiency level: Individuals at this level have an exceptional command of the language and can effortlessly read and understand novels of various genres and styles. They can comprehend and analyze intricate plots, complex narrative structures, and profound themes. They possess an extensive vocabulary, nuanced understanding of grammar, and the ability to appreciate the literary nuances and subtleties within the text.



Orange (low): A plot that is simple, straightforward, and easy to follow. It typically involves fewer characters, straightforward storylines, and minimal twists or complexities.

Green (moderate): A plot that has moderate complexity, with a balance between simplicity and intricacy. It may include multiple storylines or subplots, some twists and turns, and a moderate number of characters.

Blue (high): A plot that is significantly complex and layered. It involves intricate interconnections between characters and storylines, a higher number of subplots, and more intricate twists and turns that require closer attention from the reader.

Purple (dense): A plot that is extremely intricate and demanding. It may feature multiple perspectives, nonlinear storytelling, complex character relationships, and numerous subplots that intertwine in intricate ways. It requires careful reading, analysis, and active engagement from the reader to fully grasp the intricacies of the narrative.



Orange (low): The language used is straightforward and uncomplicated, with basic vocabulary and simple sentence structures. It focuses on clear communication without extensive use of figurative language or complex syntax.

Green (middle): The language is moderately complex, striking a balance between simplicity and intricacy. It includes a range of vocabulary and sentence structures that go beyond the basics, offering some depth and variety to the narrative.

Blue (high): The language is noticeably sophisticated and refined, demonstrating a higher level of complexity. It employs advanced vocabulary, nuanced sentence structures, and may incorporate literary devices to enhance the narrative and engage the reader.

Purple (Rich): The language is exceptionally intricate, employing a wide array of vocabulary and employing sophisticated sentence structures. It showcases literary artistry, vivid imagery, and may include complex metaphors, allusions, and wordplay to create a nuanced and immersive reading experience.



Orange (low): The ideas presented in the novel are straightforward and easily graspable. They may revolve around common themes or concepts that are readily accessible to a wide range of readers.

Green (middle): The ideas explored in the novel are moderately complex, delving deeper into certain themes or concepts. They may involve thought-provoking elements that require some contemplation but remain relatively accessible to most readers.

Blue (high):The novel presents ideas that are notably complex and intellectually engaging. It explores intricate concepts, themes, or philosophical questions that may challenge readers’ perspectives and require deeper reflection to fully comprehend and appreciate.

Purple (intricate): The novel delves into ideas that are exceptionally complex, intricate, and layered. It explores abstract concepts, philosophical inquiries, or multi-dimensional themes that demand significant intellectual engagement and critical analysis from readers to navigate and understand fully.


Why are some B2/C1 novels labeled “green” and others “blue”?

To be clear, there is no clear cut system to categorize novels on difficulty and complexity. You can work with areas, but these often overlap. The colour label system is based on information about the novel and a general feel, whereas the CEFR codes tend to be more technical. I sometimes use terms like ‘top green’ or ‘low blue’ for my students. The combination of the label and CEFR should give an indication on the complexity of the novel.


NB: For my students – Reading higher level novels does not automatically give a student a higher mark for their assessment. They still need to understand the novels and talk about them. If the student is weaker in English or reading in general, they could even get a higher mark for lighter novels defended well rather than heavier novels defended poorly. However, if the student is an avid reader and strong in English they have the opportunity to shine with blue and purple labeled novels.



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