The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
I’ve never paid attention to the features of my story which might make it more likely to be a bestseller.
But I’m all grown up now, so I thought I'd best take a closer look at the difference between the novels I've long admired and fiction's bestsellers of the last hundred years to understand what makes one book sell millions, and another thousands.
Not all of these three features need to be present in the one story, but of course 'layering' them up in the winter of our publishing discontent, might be smart.
1. The Extreme Situation
- extreme locations or landscapes
- extreme dilemmas
- extreme danger, murder afoot
'Literary' fiction works the other way round, and deposits an extraordinary person in a normal or 'normalized' situation - think Orwellian or Kafkaesque dystopian nightmares. We have a whole range between classics and bestsellers best exemplified by The Bourne Identity on the one hand which has an extreme situation meet its match...
‘Playing’ as children, is partially a rehearsal for growing older, for trying on lives. As children, we put on the clothes - the ties and high heels - of our parents and try them for size. We try out situations too. I love the video clip above from the hit reality TV series - The Secret Life of 5-Year-Olds.
It’s an interesting age, says Dr Laverne Antrobus, one of the psychologist-commentator-spies on the TV show: “They are going through a phase of experimentation, trying on different identities, to see which one fits.”
Maybe writers don’t leave this phase?
Some lovely soundbites from the show:
“I want to be a vet Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and the Queen Saturday and Sunday.”
“When I grow up, I want to be a jelly maker, a pencil sharpener… a toy maker”
With a romance blossoming in the treehouse, five year olds Sienna and Arthur play 'mums and dads' in one episode. Sienna wants him to kiss...
So you're at 30-40k and it's all gone a bit saggy.
Here are 3 reasons why.
First of all WELL DONE for creating so much material. Hats off and I'm betting you’ve struggled on and dragged the novel along against your own fading hopes for a few chapters now.
Fear not. If a novel sags - it’s usually easily diagnosed and fixed.
1. Your character is TOO close to you in gender, age, background and location.
We are never meaner or less sympathetic to anyone than we are to ourselves. So that’s not a good ‘hero’ for a novel because if you’re lacking in sympathy for your hero or heroine, the reader will be too.
There are quick fixes:
1. A Make-Over - change everything superficial about the main character. This is my ‘back of the head’ test. You must be able to see the back of her head. Immediately, that’s not you since you haven't seen yours. Immediately, it asks you to think about their hair colour and build, their posture (tense,...
Five Ways To Write like Ali.
1. Write fast
The Brexit vote was 23 June 2016. Ali Smith's novel Autumn, dubbed the first Brexit novel, was published October 16th. Ali Smith wrote this book within three months or ninety days.
"It’s a brilliant and unsettling conceit, leaving you marvelling that writing this good could have come so fast." (Financial Times.)
"I've been thinking about writing a seasonal series of books for about 20 years now, and in 2014, after finishing How to Be Both, I realised it was time to start. This might simply be because I knew now it was possible, after Hamish Hamilton made such a beautiful finished book-form for How to be Both in a matter of weeks (!), to turn a book around quite speedily compared to the usual time it takes, and this excited me about how closely to contemporaneousness a finished book might be able to be in the world, and yet how it could also be, all through, very much about stratified, cyclic time." Ali Smith.
This is one of the most common questions I'm asked.
Here's the answer.
Yes. But don't make it about yourself.
“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.” P.D. James.
“It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“The Coetzee who emerges from an informed reading of his papers is very different author from the one we thought we knew. Most surprisingly, his writing process turns out to be highly autobiographical, at least in its points of departure. It then involves a gradual, but determined process of writing himself out of the narratives, a ‘burning off of the self’ as it were.” David Attwell.
A novel starts with you, yourself, and ends without you.
Why? And how?
Writing is, and I'm not ashamed to say it, the...
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