Today I was reminded that I once read part of a Dan Brown book. It wasn’t my first encounter with a best-selling novelist who held the #1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller list for an ungodly amount of time, it wouldn’t be my last.
As most of you know, I am still hacking my way through Stephenie Meyers’ magnum opus, The Twilight Series (Japanese translation: No Sexy Happy Fun Time Sparkle GO!). I’m pretty sure it has sold more copies than anything else I’ve read in the past two years other than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
And today, I realized, I have LEARNED important and valuable LESSONS from best-selling authors!
Let me share some with you!
1. Keep your chapters SHORT, silly! Glenn Beck and Dan Brown agree on that one! This is because the average reader (the people whose buying of books enables an author to arrive on that magical NYT list) doesn’t really like to read. Reading is hard.
Also, don’t use big words for the same reason.
2. Did you put a lot of work into making your characters fully realized, living breathing personalities with feelings, hopes, dreams, and body odor? Well, you sure wasted a lot of your time!
All you need to do for characterization is tell the readers what they think of them! For example: “Kelly was a really sexy girl. I watched her sexily walk across the floor. My heart lept into my throat at how sexy she was.”
Now, the reader is going to be sure that Kelly is sexy! If you want to make it clear that a character ISN’T sexy, just tell the readers in plain English! There is no reason to look for the right balance of reaction and instinct in your characters, just say how they feel as bluntly as possible! “Dwayne was disgusted by how unattractive Misha was, especially when she stood next to sexy Kelly” can save you a lot of those pesky words!
And remember, just a few quick descriptive words (handsome & tall, or short & dull, or dreamy & sparkling) are all you need to make a character!
3. Why develop a plot “naturally” and have your character discover what is going on around them, when you can just have characters deliver all the information in (small, digestible) chunks of exposition? No reason! Exposition is so much faster! Tell, don’t show!
4. Use words however you want to! Your readers won’t care.
For example: “Joe Bob smirked at me when I told him his t-shirt was kind of cool.” Now, a lot of you reading this might think: “Wow, Joe Bob is a fucking tool!” And you would be right- but only in the real world. In the world of best-selling fiction, “Smirk” doesn’t match the definition of: ‘a smile expressing scorn, smugness, etc., rather than pleasure’.
If you can write like a best-selling author, ‘Smirk’ means that Joe Bob is beautiful and smart and handsome and so talented. And the t-shirt is probably from Ed Hardy.
5. Make lots of references to other, vastly superior, well-written works of literature! See: most of your audience will have only read the Cliff Notes, so they will assume that you are Smart and your characters Interesting.
Also: be sure to open your novel (if not each chapter) with a quote from some work of classic literature, poetry, or even the Bible (for symbolism). That will make a click in your readers head, and they will think: “Aha, that is a work of classic literature/poetry- the writer must be quite smart to be aware of this Shakespeare/Blake/Tennyson fellow, I’ve heard of them too! This book is high brow!”
6. Symbolism & Foreshadowing- when you can you should use really simple stuff that everyone gets. Like have your main character have dreams about being chased by people that they know are their enemies, and then later in the book have this actually happen! Wow! I’m getting chills just thinking of it!
I’m pretty sure that was Foreshadowing, whereas Symbolism would be if your character has a dream about their mother getting picked up by an angel and flown to heaven, and then later the mother is in a plane crash and dies. Woah, man! That is some “heavy” stuff!
7. Formula. Just imagine you are lucky enough to not only write ONE book and get it published, but the audience and publisher want you to do MORE! Wow! I get all tingly just thinking of it. But how do you make the follow-up books as good as the first? Simple, silly, rinse and repeat!
Let us say that, in your first book your main character stumbles through a lot of stuff without really having a clue about what is going on until the finale. Then, when they are about to die/be imprisoned/get expelled you have a mysterious gift/message/character that didn’t seem to have any real reason to be in the story save them/give them the info needed/grant them a fucking wish or some shit. Easy!
You can flog that crap for at least seven books!
Phew- I know this was a lot to digest, but between these Best Sellers I’ve been reading, and this trusty thesaurus I’m ignoring (Just like Stephenie Meyers!), I’m going to get to the bottom of Good Writing! Come back for more!