It is a truth universally acknowledged that every reader has encountered that one perplexing bestseller that was so inexplicably simple, effective and absolutely amazing that it made one desperately attempt to figure out how on earth it was written, and sold so well. What is the secret recipe for a good old popular story? Is there a strategy to be applied? The Internet is flooded with multiple answers to these questions even as scholars, since time immemorial, have continuously dissected the art of storytelling.
For the purpose of this article, we bring to you few simple golden guidelines, exclusively provided by bestselling author Kevin Missal, to be kept in mind while writing a novel of mass appeal.
- The Story Should Have a Purpose
It could be a supervillain that needs defeating, a murder that needs to be solved or a philosophy that has to be illustrated – each story must have a point. There should be a clear goal to which your story is heading, which, in some way, should be met. In fact, bestsellers always meet their goals, which is why they are so satisfying.
- The Story Should Have a Conflict
Once upon a time, there was a person who wanted something and got it, is the most uninteresting story ever. A conflict creates interest, it catalyzes changes in the story and the characters and causes the reader to really root for the protagonist. Conflict can be in the form of an internal struggle or an external one, but in a bestseller it is usually both.
- On Plot Twists
This is a tool that every writer loves to play with. Readers, too, enjoy being surprised, so it is essential that whatever twist one introduces within the story must truly be unexpected. Clichés have to be abandoned, or at least reconstructed in a new way. The timing makes a big difference – it could be a simple element hidden in plain sight that appears when one doesn’t see it coming at all or it could be one twist hidden within the other. Lastly, no matter how grand a surprise you create for your reader, it must be plausible, or else the reader will feel cheated. It doesn’t take much for a plot twist to look like a plot hole. Bestsellers and good books in general, have subtle clues throughout the book pointing at but never revealing, the ultimate twist.
- Create Well Rounded Characters
Flat characters with just one trait and no justification are great for cartoons, but not so much for novels. To really involve your audience in your characters, they ought to have a few different sides to them and a little backstory that provides the right motivation for their actions. Loki was the adopted son who grew up with a perfect brother, Severus Snape had an unhealthy home and was bullied as a kid, and both of them took in all the hate and turned it outwards. It makes a lot more sense than baddies doing bad things just because they exist, doesn’t it?
- Give Each Character a Quirk
Shirley, the daughter of Shirley, fell in love with Shirley but Shirley’s father didn’t like Shirley but with Shirley’s friend Shirley, they managed to convince him and all the Shirleys lived happily ever after. Confused? That’s how same sounding characters look to a reader. It isn’t enough to just name each one differently; their distinctness lies in their behavior. However, it is not easy to manage a lot of characters either, which is why it is advised to have few, and to give each one a distinct trait – or a quirk. Mad-Eye Moody had a mad artificial eye and a constant refrain of “constant vigilance’. Both these elements were sparingly but intelligently used in the Harry Potter books, even after he ceases to be a main part of the plot, and have become an unforgettable part of his character. It is important to remember that such unique characteristics should be reasonable in the context of your story.
- Descriptions should have an objective
Nobody wants to read two pages about a room that you’re never going to see again. Unnecessary details are nothing but clutter that drive attention away from the main point or just drive attention away from your book altogether. Give only as much information as is essential to make sense of the scene – your readers are intelligent and imaginative, they can fill in the gaps themselves.
- Use Active Voice Instead of Passive Voice
This is a simple and quite effective tip. Use of active voice lays emphasis on the doer of the action who, more often than not, is one of the main characters. For example, ‘the boy’s hand was grabbed by Kritika to keep him from falling’ feels strange and boring as compared to ‘Kritika grabbed the boy’s hand to keep him from falling’. It’s active voice – the advantage is clear in the name.
- Limit the Length of Each Chapter
It is a good idea to keep every chapter within 2000 words. If it is too long, it can end up being too monotonous, and affect the overall structure of the book. The first point of this article applies to each chapter individually as well, there should be a point to it.
- End Each Chapter With a Cliffhanger
How many times has it happened to you, that you decided to put a book down after the chapter you’re reading but couldn’t because you really wanted to know what happens next? That is the value of cliffhanger endings. Quite like episodes in a series, these mini segments are what give structure to your book, and the end of them is the point where a person is likely to pause. A cliffhanger keeps up the level of interest so that your reader returns for more, or skips the pause altogether.
- The First 3 Chapters are Deal Breakers
A publisher is a busy person. He or she is the Miranda Priestly of our business. Not all manuscripts are even going to end up at her table. Thus, the first 3 chapters of your manuscript are the ones that are read first, and need to be as perfect as possible. The basic introduction of your story, characters and the direction in which they are to go must be specified. However, take care to not reveal too much!
Telling a story is like making a promise to the reader. You promise to take them through an emotionally enriching journey with a reasonable destination. Breaking that promise means cheating the reader of his or her time and money, so even through twists and turns and open endings, make sure to leave the reader with justifiable conclusion that meets the point of your story.
These were some of the major points that helped Kevin Missal write his bestselling novels. But one must remember that rules, as important as they are, are meant to be broken!
Written by Sharmeishtha Singh