Tag Archives: writing a bestseller

What Makes a Book Good?

Ah, the ultimate question for writers. We spend so much of our time crafting our writing: plotting, character sketches, writing that first draft, editing and revising, rewriting, getting our work critiqued…the list goes on.5780584814_b5b11f73d8_z

Yet, say two people, Person A and Person B, have spent equal time working on their writing, why does one story come out better than the other?

Let’s rule out different genres and say that both Persons A and B are writing adult science fiction, and that both of their stories take place in space. Their story plots may even be very similar.

Let’s go with the premise of a young woman, stranded in space, who runs across an ascended being. This being winds up as part of an ancient race that has acted as various gods throughout human history, and who is now bored and feels like it’s time for the human race to end and another life form to rise to prominence.

Both stories sound interesting, however after reading the stories, Person A’s is the clear winner.

Why?

For both objective and subjective reasons.

Let’s go with some of the more objective ones:

  • 3086655956_201ab2b89e_zAttention to detail plays a huge role in how well a story turns out. It’s basically an umbrella phrase for the following reasons, because if you don’t pay attention to the small things, your readers won’t be able to picture what’s going on, and then they won’t be invested in the story.
  • World building is an aspect of writing that I’m seeing less and less of in fiction, especially young adult fiction. This is tragic, because the environment in which your story takes place is vital. It’s where everything happens. Some of my favorite books have such detailed environments that the place becomes a living, breathing character.
  • Internal Consistency is a key component as well. You can’t have a plot that jumps all over the place. I once read a book, where, on page 100, Character 9 was one of my favorite characters of the story, and then suddenly, on page 101, Character 9 was a complete jerk, who ended up being the villain of the piece. This switcheroo made no sense. I felt that the author realized readers liked Character 9 more than the main characters, and so the author had to make Character 9 evil. That novel lost all credibility.

Another example (and this one happens to be popular in young adult fiction): the main 4496975747_1e0b661a31_zcharacter is supposedly the chosen one/the one to save everyone, however the protagonist trips over her feet during every fight and must be saved by the handsome, yet jerk of a romantic interest. This is ridiculous because, unless you’re writing a comedy, how can someone be elite or the epitome of something, if she constantly needs saving?

  • Well-developed characters can make a story. As I stated earlier, world building is utterly important to the story. However, sometimes you can get away with poor world building, if you have phenomenal characters. There are multiple books I’ve read, where I knew the world building was awful, but it didn’t matter because I was invested in the characters. Granted, most of these novels were in first-person, so that the view I had of the overall story was narrowed to one character.

A problem with these type of stories, is that if you don’t like the main character, then nothing is holding you to the book, and you’ll most likely put it down and never look at it again.

  • No little misspellings or poor grammar. Readers will notice a lack of editing. They’ll pick up on all the bad punctuation, poor spelling, and grammatical mistakes. If there are too many linguistic errors, readers may get pulled out of the story. They may not return. (I once saw a novel with a misspelled title; I didn’t go past the title page.)
  • Originality. While it’s difficult to be completely original, you can take a well-used premise and make it your own. It’s too often that I see one book or book series get popular and suddenly there’s a flood of copy-cat novels, and each one seems to be worse than the predecessor.

Back to Persons A and B. Now, while most people preferred Person A’s story, a few liked Person B’s more. Though Person A’s work had better world building and more developed characters, not everyone liked Person A’s story for subjective reasons. Let’s say that one person didn’t like the story because the protagonist reminded him too much of an ex-girlfriend he had back in college. Another individual enjoyed Person B’s writing style over Person A’s.

There’s nothing Person A can do about these reasons. It’s like asking someone if contemporary art is really art. The answer will vary according to each individual.

I’ve read novels where, if I hadn’t been in the right mood, I would have greatly disliked them. I probably would have ranted to my friends about them, because, in reality, they were horribly written. But since I was in the mood for some light fluff that would make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed those novels.

Ask me to read them today and the answer would be “no.”

What makes a good book to you?

(Photos courtesy of Stefano CorsoRob, and David Urbanke.)

What Makes a Novel a Bestseller?

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When you ask a writer how successful they want their novel to be, most will answer they want it to be a bestseller. But what makes a book a bestseller? Are there rules that can be followed to increase a book’s chance of becoming a hit?

Not all bestsellers are well written. Not all bestsellers are recommendable.

Many fantastic stories are forgotten, never heard of, or flop when they hit the shelves.

So what makes a bestseller?

The truth is we really don’t know. We can try to identify commonalities between bestsellers, but at the end of the day Paper Towns is very different from The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and both those novels are nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey.

But, aren’t there at least a few rules we can glean from bestsellers, even if they are unalike?

“There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.” – Somerset Maugham

If no one can agree what the rules are, then what can writers do to work toward a bestseller?

Just write. Writing isn’t about perfection. It’s about working hard and having your writing grow with you. When you get an idea, work with it. Flesh it out. People don’t know what will make a bestseller, despite many believing they do.

It would be great if every book published was a bestseller, but thousands of books are published every year. And, guess what? The vast majority of them aren’t bestsellers.

So, besides writing, what can you do?

Write your way. Many times bestsellers are books that offer something new to the literary world, or if the concept isn’t completely new, the view on it is.

Don’t let others tell you that you’re incapable of writing a bestseller. As stated above, no one knows which books will be bestsellers. They can guess, and sometimes they’re right, but they can’t know with one hundred percent certainty.

Work hard. It’s not just about writing. It’s about editing, marketing, and connecting with the literary world and potential readers.

At the end of the day, write the best that you can. Don’t focus on creating a bestseller. Take your idea, expand on it, write your first draft, edit and revise, get others to read and critique it, edit and revise until your work is the best it can be, and then work on the synopsis and query letter if you’re going the traditional publishing route, or if you’re self-publishing, publish and market your novel as if you’re not already working a full-time job.

How do you improve your work?

(Photo courtesy of Maurice.)

Thinking like a Filmmaker: Writing a Novel in Terms of Camera Shots

filmmaking-sillouhetteWe live in a world where television shows and movies play a big role. How many hours of television or movies have you watched in the past year alone? With having so much experience watching, we are accustomed to the style of movies and television. We recognize the elements within film and TV, and expect them. In many ways this has transitioned over to literature.

Many authors now write novels keeping in mind their novel’s ability to be adapted into script. Writers pay attention to the visual elements of a scene. What makes a great scene? What makes a scene flop? Can you picture where each character and prop is within a scene?

Film and TV have only a short amount of time to relay all the important information. They have to grab your attention and hold it. Plus, they have to make viewers feel the emotions occurring within each scene based on character movement, expressions, etc. Added to that, they have to have specific set directions, to know where each character and prop in the scene is.

There are certain steps you can implement to create a very visual, riveting scene.

  1. Think about POV. If you think of your point of view as the camera, imagine where the camera needs to be for each scene. This doesn’t mean POV has to change, rather your POV character is in the optimal position in each scene to see the vital elements occurring within that scene.
  2. Know your key moments. Each scene gives readers something, whether it’s new information or a new insight based on old information. Scenes have to move the story along, and within each scene are specific moments. Without these moments a scene cannot occur. Think of each moment as a different camera shot, and all the camera shots add up to a scene.
  3. Pay attention to sensory details. What sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations are important to the scene? It’s a good idea to have at least two senses stand out in every scene. Are there trains nearby? How about the smell of lavender? Or the feel of the humidity pressing in, warning of a coming storm? How about color? In film and TV, color is very important. Each color connotes a different meaning. Infuse the scene with time and place, weather, texture, etc. How do these sensations relate to the character, the story?

Within commercial literature, readability and visualization are vital. Thinking like a filmmaker will help bring those elements to the forefront of the story. Making deliberate choices as to camera angle, which sensory details are placed within the scene, which camera shots are used and the order they’re placed in, POV, etc. all create a specific environment that adds to the story, a story that will stay with readers long after they’ve finished reading it.

What is your opinion on thinking like a filmmaker?

(Photo courtesy of f-stopacademy.)