Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Heart of a Bestseller Part I

What makes a bestseller?
What hidden techniques do bestselling novelists like Dean Koontz use to pen blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster?
How can you apply those same tricks and secrets to your own fictional stories?

For the answers, read on, fellow writer. Read on.

Let's take a recent bestseller from Dean Koontz, Your Heart Belongs to Me, and analyze it, scene by scene.

Chapter 1

  • The first thing that happens is that you find out the protagonists name (first two words in the entire book): Ryan Perry and that something is "broken" in him. This establishes the major point of view character and creates suspense. Not bad for a first sentence.
  • Next, the first page of the book tells us a little about Mr. Perry. He is thirty-four, in good shape, likes to exercise, he has money (he has his own home gym and personal trainer), and the man likes to surf. This is almost strictly telling, detail after detail, but it is delivered quickly while we are still spellbound wanting to know about this "brokenness."
  • We get more details, a phone conversation with his significant other, Samantha, drizzled with the brief recounting of their first meeting. Notice these details are quickly related and well-written.
  • During their phone conversation, we learn more about Ryan and Samantha, notably an occasion when Ryan "rode a shark." Again, interesting. Back and forth goes their dialogue with nary a tag of "said" to be found. Koontz identifies the players up front and then lets their particular speech patterns orient the reader.
  • After the phone conversation, we get a little action (dressing to go surfing) and some more details about Ryan's personal and business history.
  • The next scene takes place at the beach. Some dialogue, intermingled with poetic descriptions of the sand and surf. Classic Koontz.
  • Once out in the waves, wading and waiting for a ride back to the beach, Ryan experiences what seems to be a heart attack. At this point in the story, all we know as a reader is that something terrible is happening to someone we already like. The scene ends with everything now seeming formidable and oppressing, the sea rising up against our hero, nature conspiring for his death.

What secrets can you dredge up from this first chapter?

1. Introduce the main characters fairly quickly.
2. Give each character a distinct and memorable speech pattern (way of speaking, commonly used terms and nicknames).
3. Bridge backstory with small scenes and ongoing action.
4. Begin and end with suspense. Keep the reader wanting more, unable to put down the story. Do this by indicating something "broken" or wrong, but not precisely labeling the "brokenness" just yet. Hint at future danger looming in the horizon.
5. Take something familiar to your character (surfing and the ocean to Ryan in our example) and turn it against the character, make it the seeming enemy.

Check out the next installment of "The Heart of a Bestseller" very soon.

God bless you!

No comments:

Post a Comment