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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Bestseller Rulebook

Over the past several weeks, I've noticed a few magazines expressing their opinions - (And their readers opinions) - on what makes a best seller. Obviously, I was intrigued.
As fellow authors will know, it takes a great deal of hard work and dedication to produce a short story, let alone a novel, or a series. So, what sure-fire ingredients do the "experts" say we ought to make sure we include in our fledgling babies?
You might find some of them surprising.
Here goes:
Make your main character's life hard
It's no fun having someone who has the world at their feet. Readers want turmoil. Do they have enemies to defeat? Do they need to protect their families in some way? Is there a threat that everything they have could be taken away? If they have a love life, make it gritty.
Have you noticed how this point is reflected in some of the things on TV recently? The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, 24, Game of Thrones, Homeland.
Have real Supporting characters
Just because they're not the hero or heroine, doesn't mean to say a member of the supporting cast can't be complex. Make them just as realistic, multifaceted, intelligent or devious as your main character. It'll add a depth to your work that will make it much more believable.
Build them a world
I've mentioned this before. How much effort do you expend in world building? Where does the story take place? When? How did they get to where they are now? What's the history and development behind this fictional person/place and where are they going? The more detail, the clearer the ring of fictional truth with sound through.

For example...
Do you know, only two of my readers have actually asked my why Lei Yeung, (A character from the Guardian Series), has a Chinese name? Why has he lived most of his life in Japan, and become the boss of a Japanese crime syndicate when the two cultures hate each other?
Aha! Well spotted Jon and Simon...but you'll have to wait a while for things to be explained.
(You'll see...follow the breadcrumbs).

Add a mystery
Who is John Snow's mother? What is the island? Who shot J.R.? Will we ever see the second series of Caprica?Just what is Victoria's Secret?
Mystery adds a narrative arc to the plot and allows you to drop all sorts of clues and red herrings. It's a great tool, so long as you help unravel the mystery as the story evolves.
Kill off characters
The best stories are the ones that subvert your expectations. When I read Game of Thrones, I was itching for Ned Stark to expose the snotty little *#%8 (Joffrey) for what he was and depose of the Lannisters. Ouch! Was I wrong. I won't say any more, as the TV series is nowhere near as developed as the books and I don't want to spoil the surprises. But seriously - wow! If you can make your reader spit with indignation, you've won. You've made them care for your character. Nice one :)
If you're going to include sex, make sure the intensity, heat rating, and frequency match the actual plot line perfectly. For goodness sake, don't just chuck it in there to pad out the story. Our readers aren't idiots. They will immediately spot something that doesn't fit. So ensure it does.
A good sex scene can really make/break the story's credibility.
Ohm Ohm on the range
A good dream sequence, dream-quest, or drugs high, etc,
can allow you to take your character where they wouldn't otherwise be able to go. It can add depth/history to the character themselves, or the plot, and allow you to include essential history that would otherwise be missed. So, don't be afraid to add surrealism.
Have an endgame
This is why I spend so much time planning a project before I actually start writing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rigid. I allow things to flow as I'm writing, because very often, great ideas and twists come to me as I'm going along. But, I know how my story will begin. I know the ports it has to call in at on the way, and I know how it's going to end. Having an endgame can allow all sorts of machinations and subplots to simmer away as you go along. Then, at the grand revelation, when you pull all the threads together...pow! What an impact.
Well, there you go.
I thought some of the ideas were rather intriguing, especially when it came to making our characters happy. Life isn't always like that, and evidently, our public want to see that reflected in the stories they read.
So, what points are you going to ensure make it into your next novel?


  1. This is great info, here! I have saved it and will use it as a guide for all my writing.

  2. Why, thank you Lorraine. Glad you like it. I'm just passing on the main points I read in a number of similar articles. :)