Here are some elements you need to write a blockbuster.
High Stakes – Day of the Jackal where the fate of France rests in the success or failure of the assassin known as The Jackal or The Da Vinci Code where the influence of religion over the past 2,000 years will be put to the test as a conspiracy to silence critics of the Catholic Church is uncovered.
Larger than life characters – the blockbuster needs characters who are larger than life. Think of Scarlet O’Hara or Matthew Bourne in the Robert Ludlum Bourne series of books.
A grand dramatic question – will The Jackal be stopped in time? Will Matthew Bourne discover his identity and find out why all these people are trying to kill him?
High Concept – this term is borrowed from the movie world and describes an often audacious idea at the root of the story. The Da Vinci Code has this idea as its central theme.
Multiple points of view – often blockbuster novels are told through the eyes of several major characters; it is a more filmic style.
Settings – the blockbuster is often set on the international stage or to a background of a national struggle. Think of any of the books by Wilbur Smith. Arthur Hailey trademarked this, he give his novels one-word titles; Hotel, Airport. James Michener went one further in his historical novels featuring the history of nations Hawaii, and Poland.
When thinking of your writing be sure you follow the George Orwell rules:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do
- If it is possible to cut out a word. Cut it out!
- Never use the passive when you can use the active
- Never use a foreign phrase or word when there is a good English word
- Break any of these rules rather than write anything boring
Top 10 Short Story Tips
1) Time period of the story should be short
2) Keep the story succinct
3) Start the story instantly with conflict in a catchy first paragraph
4) Select a point of view most appropriate to the story
5) Plenty of dialogue in either speech or reported speech
6) Reinforce your characterisations in every paragraph either by speech or actions also remember your setting
7) Think structure – beginning/middle/end, but don’t make it easy for your protagonist
8) Build to a climax
9) Successful resolution in line with characterisation (with a twist?). Remember, ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ and similar endings have all been overused. You can use coincidence to create problems for your characters but you must always use logic to resolve the problem.
10) Polished narrative? Make sure your language is as strong as you can make it by cutting out anything unnecessary and that spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct for your story
Remember, after doing all the above the story still has to feel like real life and not sound like an exercise. If you read a good writer’s short story it immediately takes off and has a life of its own. After all the above considerations, this is the most important thing!
To write a hit book, you’ve gotta really put in a lot of time, right? I mean you’ve got to dig through months of research on your topic. Spend another few months creating your perfect outline.
Then spend at least 6 more months pouring over draft after draft until at last you have your masterpiece.
W R O N G!
Did you know that Jack Kerouac’s Best Selling Book On The Road was written in only 20 days?
Or how about the classic A Christmas Carol? Charles Dickens wrote the entire book in exactly 14 days.
Agatha Christie, the world’s best selling novelist is reported to finish most of her books in less than 30 days!
But perhaps the most incredible story is that of Dr. Richard Carlson. He wrote his best selling book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff in about 12 hours – while flying home in an airplane!
When starting your book always write in a forward direction. Never be tempted to start your story by filling in a bit of background detail.
The great American crime writer Elmore Leonard gave one of his rules of writing as: “Never start with the weather.” Whenever you stop to describe the weather or backstory you are halting the forward momentum of that story. Jack M Bickham in his 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes sets out three rules when writing the beginning of a novel:
1) Anytime you stop to describe something, you have stopped. Asking the reader to jump eagerly into a story that starts without motion is like asking a cyclists to ride a bike with no wheels.
2) Fiction looks forward, not backward. When you start a story with background information, you point the reader in the wrong direction.
3) Good fiction starts with – and deals with – someone’s response to threat. Every good story starts at a moment of threat.
Beginning a new project is always an anxious time. You wonder if your dream story has legs to last the distance, does it stand out from the rest, does it really reflect what you are trying to say? Well, the only way to find out is to sit down and start writing. To provide a bit of encouragement, why not buy a month-to-a-page calendar and mark a cross for every day you write? Once you see the rows of crosses start to accumulate you will not want to break the chain!
As autumn approaches and the new season of Kendal Writers Café meetings begin we have decided to move to a new website format which includes all updates on our activities and a blog that will add thoughts and insights on the craft of writing. Please feel free to respond to any posts and keep checking back to see additions to the site which we hope will be useful to writers at all stages of their writing journey.