Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writing a New York Times Best-selling Novel, or, When Do I Get To Have A Dream That Turns Into A Bestselling Novel? by Michele Ashman Bell

It hasn't happened yet. Every night I go to bed and think, "Will I have the dream tonight? The one where I wake up and have a brilliant idea that becomes a best-selling novel series that turns into box office hits starring hunky male leads and smolderingly beautiful female leads?"

Yea, right.

I may be a fiction author but I do live in the real world. These "success" stories are far and few between. Yes, they do happen, no question about it. But until you have that career-boosting dream, there are a few things you can do to make it happen the good old fashioned way, with hard work and imagination.

So, what exactly goes into a best-selling novel?

I've researched this question and have come up with a few ideas. Please feel free to add more. Believe me, I'm open to all the help I can get.

#1: Plot should be the driving force of your story. Characters and background are secondary. A good plot will pull the reader in and not let go of them until the last word of the last page.

#2: Have passion for your characters. Write characters that readers can love, at their best or at their worst. Make them human, give them flaws, let them show their humorous side as well as their neurotic side. They will be irresistible to readers.

#3: Find a way to appeal to the reader's wildest dreams and fantasies. People read to escape. If your character is dull and boring and they do ordinary things, readers are going to be disappointed. Write about the impossible that becomes possible. Let the reader escape into the wonderful world you've created.

#4: Keep the tension high all the way to the end. Make the reader crazy if you have to. Readers actually want to bite off all their nails, hold their breath, groan in agony and stay up all night reading. Hold them off, clear to the end, then . . . . give them the ultimate, satisfying ending.

#5: Have your background information so believable it becomes a character. When you decide on a setting for your story don't forget to look at what's right in front of your nose. You may be able to use material from your own life or surroundings that will add a deep level of authenticity that only you can offer.

#6: Use the details of place and time as tools to create your characters. Make characters an extension of their world; how they dress, how they speak, what they eat and all other ways they interact with their surroundings. Books become magical when the reader believes that characters and their world are real.

#7: Be unique. Everyone one of us comes to the table with a set of experiences, interests and abilities. Taking advantage of our own personal uniqueness will allow us to write stories that no one else can write. Embrace it. You really do have qualities that will set your story apart from everyone elses.

Perhaps what we can learn from this is that we don't really need a dream. Maybe where we get our ideas isn't as important as what we do when we get an idea. We really can make magic happen.


Nancy Campbell Allen said...

This is awesome advice, Michele. Makes me think you've been writing for a while! ;-)

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

I really enjoyed your thoughts about writing, Michele. You have some awesome points to think about. I believe what you said, that we must take "advantage of our own personal uniqueness," and we shouldn't compare ourselves to other writers. Just because one author made it to the top doesn't mean that you aren't as good as he or she. It only means that they had an unusual chance to survive this world of many authors. I've read books that I thought should be a best seller and they weren't. I've read books that were best sellers and I wondered why on earth they even made it. So it doesn't mean you're not good if you don't make it to the best seller list. What we're doing out in this "World of Authors" is just one thing... to make a difference in someone's life, to make someone laugh, cry, sigh, and fall in love all over again, or sit on the edge of their sit as they read a mystery. It's all about uplifting and making a difference in this world. Thanks for your comments. They were great! I've read your books. I absolutely love them. They should be on the best seller list. But alas, we always hold our breath and hope for a miracle. Take Care!

Gale Sears said...

Good advise, Michele. Many juicy little tidbits to savor and digest.
Thanks for all your great books!

Cheri J. Crane said...

Excellent post, Michele. You've just given me hope for a manuscript I have to revise. ;)