How to Write a Best Seller – Or Not, As the Case May Be

Having been a teacher of Modern European languages, including English, I suppose I should have known exactly what approach to take when writing a book, well, in theory, at least!

Finding one’s ‘niche’ is obviously going to be an important feature in determining exactly what is envisaged as the finished product. Is it going to be fact or fiction? A biography or fantasy? Tragic or humorous? And, if it is going to be fiction, which ‘genre’ best suits one’s passion, knowledge, experience, and style of writing? But, then again, if we want to be successful, is it not better to write about what people want to read rather than what the author wants to write?

Anyway, enough of the theory, back to the plot. Yes, there must be a ‘plot’ of sorts, whatever we write. Think back to those boring English lessons at school, (well, if you’re my age and went to an English Grammar School, they were probably exceedingly boring, but we did all pass the exams). The lesson on “How to write an essay” must surely be a good place to start. Clearly, we just expand each section of the ‘plan’ to write a book? Simple!

Yes, remember the ‘plan’; an introduction, development and conclusion. It’s as easy as that, isn’t it? Wait a minute; is that in the right order? Don’t they do it backwards now? Start with the ending and finish with the beginning? It’s all a bit confusing nowadays how to write a cause and effect essay.

Unquestionably, we need a title for our ‘bestseller’? That’s something which we have to get right. It must instantly captivate potential readers. Shall we waste hours thinking up one first, and make our writing ‘fit’ round it, or find one that suits when we’ve finished? Possibly by that time we’ll have had a brainwave!

Just a few more questions; what about the setting? When and where will the story in our novel take place? Is it a modern piece or an historical epic? Or doesn’t that really matter? Conceivably, we are going to write something that could transpose itself to any place and any time, as long as the ‘plot’ is good. There’s that word again!

I expect, at this point, it’s also time to start thinking about ‘characters’. After all, every novel must have some. They are the catalysts who allow the plot to ‘develop’. They are ‘what makes the novel’. We have decided it’s going to be a novel, haven’t we?

I’ve got a strong hunch now that the characters will be quite important to a ‘best seller’. In that case, each character must be finely sculpted, impeccably ‘honed’. So, to what extent should we describe them? How much should we leave to the reader’s imagination? Should we portray them in every detail, explaining their background, their appearance, and their ‘characteristics’? Or, might it be better to just allow the characters to ‘develop’ themselves through their habits and idiosyncrasies, depict themselves through their behaviour and their emotions? Let’s just see how it goes. We may even come up with something better half way through and change everything about them. It is a problem, though, isn’t it? Rather like painting a picture; how much should we ‘shade in’ or indeed, leave blank?

Inevitably, ‘characters’ are going to contain snippets of those we know, either personally, or through the wonders of the modern media. After all, they have to be ‘real’, have ‘real’ qualities and ‘real’ weaknesses, if they are to be believed, empathized with, identified with. (Oh dear, I’ve ended a sentence with a ‘preposition’ – that’s not right, is it?).

Now, another consideration, will the ‘plot’ be ‘character driven’ or will events and experiences ‘drive’ the characters? Do we really need a hero or a heroine? Every novel seems to have one or both. Perhaps we should be different and not have any? It’s becoming even more complicated; so many things to consider! At this point, I fear I may be losing the plot!

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