I really love having guest posters and this is no different, today I have the lovely Jim Snell who I met on Twitter. He has written: HOW TO WRITE A BEST SELLER (or what I learned from reading Stephen King). So I shall let him take it away.
There’s 3 main ingredients: character, story, pacing.
But the most important of these is: keep people turning pages. (Back to that in a moment.
(Works for) Genre: Thriller, horror, or mystery
They don’t need to be likable. But they need to be real. Ish. That is, they’re not perfect. They’re human. The good ones have some bad in them. The bad ones some good. And they probably - like the Carly Simon song - all think they’re the main character.
For this recipe, you’ll need 3 major POV characters. 2 good guys and a bad, maybe 1 good guy and 2 bads - however you like it. If you want a little romance, the 2 good guys can be on a path to find each other romantically, but that’s probably not the main thrust.
Call them Character A, B & C
Now we get back to turning pages.
Give each POV character their own chapter. Doesn’t have to be first person POV, btw. Then braid the chapters: A, then B, then C - and repeat. Through the whole book. But...
End each chapter with the character in a cliffhanger.
So the reader turns the page to find out what happened to A and they’re in B’s story. They finish that chapter and the cliffhanger compels them to turn the page, to find out what happens to A or B, and they’re in C’s story. At the end of that chapter, they turn to the next to find out what happened to A, B or C ... and they’re finally rewarded by finding out what A did to get out of the situation.
This helps the book be impossible to put down.
Shorter encourages the “I’ll just read one more” thought, which can happen over and over -- and keep readers turning pages.
The characters want something. They can’t get it. If they do seem to get it, they find out it’s not what they really needed, it’s a false victory - maybe a setback - and they have to redouble their efforts.
Increase the stakes. As the story goes along. Escalation = tension = page turning.
Each of the characters is seeking something. And in the end, most are really seeking some kind of redemption.
Good if you can work that in. Except, maybe, for the bad guy.
Also known as: story thrust.
As the story nears the end, utilize shorter chapters to increase the sense that things are speeding along. Short sentences too. With active verbs. And short paragraphs.
That’s story construction.
Near the end, the last 3rd, say, might want to introduce a ticking clock. Can be part of the escalation. Now something has to happen soon! (By the end of the book.)
The characters get what they need -- but it’s not necessarily what they started out wanting.
But the most important of these is: the braid.
Write your book. Then ... write 3 more. Because the first one probably won’t be a best seller, yet. It generally takes 4 books to create the critical mass needed to get to bestsellerdom.
As people read the books, they tell friends, the readership increases. And if people keep liking them, by the 4th one, you’ve got a good chance to get the bestseller you want -- and then readers will go find your other books and put them there too.