The holographic novel (also called a holonovel) was, like its ancient counterpart, a story with a protagonist and characters with a plot. However, unlike regular novels, actual people could become the characters on a holodeck or in a holosuite. The holonovels were coded so that every character's part could be played by a living being. The clothing and facial attributes (for example, beards, swords, wooden legs) were holographically added to one's body, enabling a person to look the part without any real physical modifications. Holonovels did not replace the traditional writing of novels, as in the 23rd century books were still written. Holonovels, however, were like the "movie versions" of novels, in which anyone could reenact their favorite book. Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a well-known fan of the Dixon Hill holonovel series, while Dr. Julian Bashir often played novels written by his friend Felix.

Holonovels were not always written for entertainment purposes. For example, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok was the original author of a holonovel, Insurrection Alpha, in which he simulated the mutiny of the Maquis aboard USS Voyager. His purpose in doing so was to train new security officers in case the Maquis aboard Voyager ever attempted such a coup d'etat. However, Lieutenant Tom Paris (and others) took it upon themselves to ignore the Vulcan's original intent and participated in the yet unfinished holonovel with pure entertainment purposes in mind. (VOY: "Worst Case Scenario")

Some holonovels contained a jack-in-the-box, which was a surprise ending or plot twist. One such jack-in-the-box afflicted Vic's Las Vegas Lounge and nearly resulted in the "death" of Vic Fontaine (or rather, the resetting of his memory files, which would have effectively erased all recollection he had of the crew of Deep Space 9). (DS9: "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang")

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