You can be a bestselling novelist, but do you really want to be one?

 I’ve been reading the works of a bestselling novelist, trying to pinpoint why she’s been so popular for the past two decades. It’s hard work. Her writing style is surprisingly amateurish, her characters are not well drawn, she tells and explains instead of showing, and she repeats herself as if she can’t remember from page to page what she’s already said.

So, why do people keep reading her books?

Passion. Her characters never like or dislike anything. They love and hate, but mostly love. “She ate a piece of cherry pie, and she loved it.” “They had sex, and they loved it.”

Identifiable characters. She gives her characters tags that readers can identify with (mother, prosecuting attorney, abused child, wronged wife) and lets the reader fill in the blanks.

Issues. She picks an issue people are passionate about, and wraps her story around that.

And most of all, she gives readers someone to love and someone to hate, and makes her character choose between them. And, brilliantly, the character chooses the one the reader doesn’t want.

Example: a prosecuting attorney, who adores her husband and their young daughter, gets breast cancer, has a mastectomy and chemotherapy. The husband can’t handle it, is mad at her for “pretending” that she’s sicker than she is, is totally unsupportive, and even worse has an affair.  A coworker supplies the support the husband refuses to give her, and she and the coworker fall in love and plan to get married when her divorce goes through. A year after being diagnosed, she is doing well, and the husband comes nosing around again. In the end, they get back together.

See? Passion. Identifiable characters. Issues. Someone to love and someone to hate. And the wrong ending.

Why is the wrong ending the right one? If the author went with the new love, who would remember? By having the character go back to her husband, the author is manipulating us into thinking about the story. Would we go back to a husband (or wife) who treated us like garbage just so we can uphold the sanctity of marriage?

As you can see, even though I hated the book, she got me. After all, I am blogging about it.

2 Responses to “You can be a bestselling novelist, but do you really want to be one?”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I found your site on author’s blogs.
    I totally get this post. Hyperbole is a great writing tool. It makes everything seem so important. Cheating, reuniting, it all makes good writing. I agree with you that it’s all unrealistic crap that teaches you nothing except “everything will be alright in the end” ya.
    It’s something that drives me crazy tho, because every time I go to edit my work, I keep thinking, “I need to take this up a level, make it much more intense. ”
    Seems like I just need to make my characters love stuff more 😉

  2. Pat Bertram Says:

    I’m glad all the agony I endured while reading that novelist’s books was not wasted. To be honest, I thought it was; it was only in retrospect that I realized I actually learned something. I tend to be an analytical writer, which make my characters seem a little passionless, so I too need to make my characters love more stuff.

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