Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bestseller Recipe

This is from some years ago.  A few writers researched the best selling books in the thriller type category and these points were how they were all similar.  (Putting a lie, pretty much, to the claim these books aren't formulaic.)

1) The hero is an expert.
2) The villain is an expert.
3) You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
4) The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him.
5) Two or more on the team must fall in love.
6) Two or more on the team must die.
7) The villain must turn his attention from his initial goal to the team.
8) The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
9) All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with ''Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up.''
10) If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.

I find 10) very useful.  You don't have to kill someone, of course, although I happily killed Shannon in the Bad Apple series as a plot point.  Killing someone proves the threat is real.  And it gives everyone something to do and talk about for two chapters.  Don't overdo it.  You can kill off too many people and then death loses its sting.  You may temper it by just reminding the audience that the threat is real and then it becomes foreshadowing.

You may ask "If I'm bogged down, does that mean there's something wrong with the story?"  You shouldn't bother to ask that.  Just make something unexpected happen.

Death losing its sting.  I watched Justified last night and I have no idea what the body count was but once every 15 minutes seems about right.  If this part of Kentucky is actually this violent, the governor should send in the National Guard to clean up the place.  It's like a Third World country in the holler.  Not only does the violence become predictable, it becomes boring.  For me.  I'm sure I'm in the minority.  You can tart up the violence to make it different, like the guy being blown up by the landmine, but it's ultimately just another dead body.  When you have the main character treat it with no seriousness, then the death has no impact at all.

The main character should be the conduit for the author to tell the audience what to think and feel about what's going on.  If the main character isn't disturbed by needless death, violence and loss, then maybe we need to start asking what's wrong with him.  In turn, I know this isn't a popular position for me to take these days, I wonder about the writer coming up with this emotionally dead main character to speak for him/her.

Have you ever talked to a psychologist or a psychiatrist?  It's a bit unnerving because they could be analyzing you.  Don't worry about it.  Your books reveal your interior world more effectively than a shrink.  Luckily for most of us, readers don't pay much attention anymore.

Gallery of Famous Writers

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