How to Write Best-Selling Fiction: Entry One

Dean Koontz’s how-to book, How to Write Best Selling Fiction, came with more than a few recommendations. It’s a hard book to find. I had to use inter-library loan and I got the notice that it was available for pickup about halfway between Texas and Georgia. It of course went to the top of my list of things to tackle when I got back from DragonCon, because nothing makes you want to read something faster than a due date and a no renewal option.

The perceived value of this book was further enhanced by how much it seems to be in demand thirty-seven years after it was published. No, that’s not a typo. This little gem was published in 1981.

It’s got some of the most interesting chapter titles I’ve ever seen. For example:

Chapter 3: The Changing Marketplace. I’m sorry, but we’re no longer buying epistolary Gothic espionage novels set on the planet Mars in the seventeenth century. Readers seem to be tiring of that genre.

It made me laugh out loud. Wow, were epistolary Gothic espionage novels ever a thing? And on Mars in the 17th century no less? Guess I better cross THAT project off my list.

Interesting things I learned from today’s reading:

The demands of the average reader. There are eight of them. Very useful.

Why villains are easier to write than heroes. This explains so much about some of the awful stuff I’ve read where there is no heroic figure, so guess I’ll still with my initial bias to write heroic figures.

Favorite quote of the day:

…academe’s kiss is the kiss of death… its embrace is an assurance of eventual, total, lasting obscurity.

Yup, I knew this one. Still made me go “Right, on.” It’s nice when Koontz agrees with me.

How and why category fiction suffers declines in popularity. In some ways it’s so obvious it should not need to be said, but it did. Keyword is “quality.”

Why novels will never be replaced by movies or series. I think his reasoning is sound thirty-seven years later, so he was onto something. If you don’t agree, I suggest you try to novelize just the first fifteen minutes of your favorite movie. After you’ve taken down the description and the dialogue, make sure you add in the important stuff like evoking the emotions you felt when you first saw it.

What makes a well-written story. Words like “complex” and “extensively researched” and “thematically ambitious” were used.

Elements of a classic plot and why it’s NOT a formula, but a proven pattern that’s flexible and satisfying. Seems at odds with the above, but it’s not.

How to handle the opening of a story that requires that many characters be introduced and the story background be established before the story problem can take the stage. To be honest, I was getting a little worried up until I got to this one, because of his emphasis on starting with a crisis. Every single example he gave (where it started with a crisis) bored me to tears and I was beginning to think, maybe this is not a book for me after all. You have to share some basic theories of fiction to find usefulness in a how-to book.

And that’s just the first hundred or so pages, so, I’d say, a good start cause I’m still interested in what he has to say.




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