All I want in life is to be the creator of that book that has sticky fingerprints in it. You know the one. The one that is so obviously loved that it’s practically falling apart.
I would be honored to be the author of a falling apart book.
How did they do it? How did Stephen King, Jane Austen, and Leo Tolstoy create books that are still known to this day? What formula did they follow to generate such a masterpiece?
No two books are exactly the same, and there’s not one good way to go about writing a best seller. But fear not my young padawans-there is a simple format that I will be sharing with you to give your book extra flair that is sure to land it in the lap of willing publishers.
One: A Disliked Character
Every good book has that one character that, gosh, you just really want to see burn. Sometimes I swear I just keep reading in order to see that antagonist get the payback they so deserve.
It can be as simple as having a Voldemort for your Harry Potter, or a Gollum to your Frodo. A character that you can pinpoint to be bad, someone who the main character is against.
If every character in your story is a happy-go-lucky chum that just smiles all day, then what you’ve achieved is my son’s bedtime story. Include that character that makes people cringe, let our hate for them fuel us to continue reading.
Two: Embrace the Crazy
Remember your first love? It was a flurry of emotions, making you reckless and irrational but that’s half of why you loved it in the first place.
It’s the same with a good character. They are irrational. They yell, they make stupid decisions, they charge headfirst without looking back. Don’t be afraid to let your character free, show them the rules and let them break them all.
Has your character led the army into a raging battle, just for a third of the soldiers to perish within the first ten minutes? Does he have an opportunity to retreat and save the remaining men? Don’t do it. Let him make mistakes. He’s driven by revenge and greed and lust and is making all the wrong choices.
And we love it.
If your character never takes a risk then the publishers aren’t going to take a risk on you. Give your character some diversity, and let us be the readers who scream at them through the pages to don’t do it, but secretly be glad they did anyway.
Three: Character Diversity
Each character should be their own. Do they have unique sayings, wear their hair a certain way or shrug their shoulders when they walk? What makes them different than the other characters, how do they set themselves apart? Which character is sarcastic, which is quiet and shy? Which one is dreadfully afraid of fireflies?
Go through your narrative and pinpoint these certain personality traits that make each character unique, let us experience different personalities and find one that we identify with the most.
Don’t forget the flaws. No one is perfect, and that’s okay. The flaws make them relatable, and add a charm to the story. He wants to ask the girl out but he has a stutter? She has a temper that just can’t be tamed?
It adds for an interesting dynamic when we see characters struggling, not only with each other, but also with the lesser parts of themselves.
Four: A Killer Opening
How many TV shows have you heard great things about, but that pilot episode couldn’t have been worse? “It gets better, I swear!” “Just stick with it for the first season.” Nope, I’m out, sayonara.
Your entire storyline could revolve around a princess who is attending a ball, trust me-the audience is much more likely to forgive a bad storyline written very well than a good plot that puts them to sleep in the first three pages.
Bring them in right away. Demand that they turn that next page, make it unforgivable if they close the book. Show them right from the start that you are worth spending their precious time on, and hook them with the first chapter.
Curled up with that ultra plush blanket, biting what’s left of your fingernails, turning the pages as fast as you can read. That’s the good life.
Are there parts that make your stomach curl with anticipation, or parts where the tension between two characters is so thick you can cut it with a knife? Publishers want to see that.
Show them the parts that aren’t flowers and sunshine, where things aren’t going great for the character and you honestly don’t know how they are going to make it through.
She’s come all this way to audition for the part, telling no one back home so she doesn’t have to face them if she doesn’t get in. And she just got rejected. Left on the side of a busy sidewalk in a foreign city, she doesn’t even have enough for a hotel room, but she rather die than call home and ask help from her controlling mother.
Let character’s goals oppose each other. Let them fight it out, or give the silence treatment. Our fickle hearts will pick a side and watch it play out.
Like any good soap opera, there are several things happening at once, all jumbled up together. It’s the potatoes and veggies to that steak. The steak on its own is great, but your guests will be a little confused if you serve it alone on a plate.
Keep the main focus on the main plot, but leave room for it to breathe by distracting the audience with side problems and stories along the way. A typical side plot is a tender brewing love, and our romantic souls thank you for the inclusion.
Seven: Protagonist Growth
I’ll stick with your character while he blunders around like a fool trying to figure out his life on the way to becoming a knight. But if at the end of the story you, as the author, still have Sir Knight tripping over his feet and itemizing women, I’m going to be extremely disappointed in you. Please don’t let me down.
My dad and I used to watch movies and read books together, and if after a decent way in the protagonist was still getting arrested we would look at each other a moan. “This book better get good soon.” We weren’t willing to watch a character go on an adventure if he himself wasn’t changed.
By the end of the book we were always content, with the character leading an orphanage and changing Bristol, thanks George Mueller.
The point is, publishers want to know-often in your query letter-how the character grows. Take us on that journey with you, I can’t wait to see where we go.
Eight: Beware Unrealistic Character
Do not let this be confused with the previously mentioned joys of irrationality. An irrational character is enjoyable with all their spontaneity glory. An unrealistic character is much less tolerated.
Let’s highlight the difference. Irrational characters lack common sense but make for interesting reads. It’s reasonable that every character isn’t going to always make the best decisions.
But beware the unrealistic character, the one who just doesn’t make sense. Has your character always acted a certain way or had certain values? Don’t let them randomly stray in their ways without giving us an explanation as to why they suddenly went rouge. Let each of the actions make sense and fit with the characters given personality.
Nine: Kill Someone
I do realize that these characters are a part of your very heart and soul and that you never want to see them hurt. I don’t care, kill them anyway.
Think of your favorite book, someone dies, right? It’s an important element to the story and every good book does not stray from this rule. If you do know a great book in which no one dies, I’d love to read it and see how the author gets away with it!
As for the rest of us mortals, in order to achieve a good novel that elicits all the right emotions, we need to say ado to one of our loved ones. Choose carefully, write responsibly, and watch your manuscript take itself to the next level.
Want to see more ideas on how to improve your writing skills? Check out these useful websites