Tips for Writing Popular Fiction Part 1

Update: Click to read Part 2 or Part 3.

Tips for Writing Popular Fiction

The blog below will give you tips for writing popular fiction.  It is not meant to teach you to write the next great American novel.  Why not?  Read on…

There are a lot of truly great novels out there; books with deep meaning behind every carefully chosen word and a story that holds a special place in the heart of generations. Chances are, your book is not that book. That doesn’t mean that the talent needed to create such a work doesn’t exist in abundance, it means that today’s reader isn’t looking for the next great American novel. They are looking for an escape. Hear me out.

Many classic American novels deal very deeply with the human condition. The plot is secondary to the meaning the writer is trying to convey. There’s a lot of meaning behind Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but most readers just read something they think is about drinking your way across western Europe and bull fighting. The problem for today’s reader often lies with the plot. The older the literature is, the less likely it is to capture the readers attention with vivid action sequences and the like. Why do today’s readers enjoy blistering pacing and Michael Bay-esque action sequences. I blame it on Hollywood blockbusters that change great books into mindless drivel.

Still, this puts us writers at a crossroads. Do we sell out and write solely for an audience that eschews content with literary merit (See: Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.)? Or, do we spend years completing our masterpiece, only to have the Big 5 publishers tell us it’s garbage and they want more vampires and zombies to sell books? I don’t think it has to be exclusively one or the other and I’ll tell you why.

It is possible to write the plot of a story so that it will entertain those who want to be entertained, and provoke thought in those looking for meaning behind your words. It’s a fine line, but it’s something I’ve been working on for some time. Here’s how I do it:

1. Write at an accessible level. Twilight was written at an eighth-grade level, but sprinkled throughout are what scholars call SAT words. It’s as though Meyer is trying to assure her more educated audience that she is, in fact, intelligent despite the content of her books. In my opinion, I would bring up the level to perhaps tenth grade and still use SAT words as long as it doesn’t distract the reader (for instance, using a complicated word in dialogue that the character should never have known, like using anthropomorphic instead of human-like). A certain amount of making your reader stumble is necessary if you want their vocabularies to grow, but make sure using those words fits within the story.

2. The Art of Subtlety. In my first two novels, subtle was not a word I was familiar with when it came to writing. My plot was very heavy-handed, shoving opinions down the throats of my characters so they would spew my righteous dogma. No more. After years of reflection and reading, I learned to put much more content between the lines. Not only should the reader assume certain things, the characters within your novel should jump to conclusions like any regular person would. Just because someone hasn’t directly said something or you didn’t describe something directly, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen within the contents of the story. For instance, in my latest novel Nightstalkers (out in March), misunderstandings are central to the plot. My main characters are at each other’s throats for much of the story, and for what? Not just to get my jollies, I assure you. If you read deep enough, there are plenty of cues in the first two thirds of the novel that foreshadow what’s going to happen, but they are carefully inserted in prose that is accessible to a major audience. If you don’t read deeply then close to the end of the book you’ll find out why anyway, and while the timing works, it would read differently on a second read-through. Subtlety.

Do you know who a master of subtlety is? J.K. Rowling. She put in countless clues in the first six books regarding the true allegiance of the character everyone loves to hate. If you read it from the beginning knowing what happens, there are countless references that could have tipped you off. Also, Horcruxes! Most of them we’d seen at some point or another, introduced well before we knew such a thing existed. Subtlety and foreshadowing are close cousins.

I have a lot more to talk about regarding tips for writing popular fiction that will have to wait until future posts. For instance, why should we write for the masses? What’s the best genre to reach the greatest number of people? How do I get people to read X? Stay tuned for more.

Do you have any Tips for Writing Popular Fiction? Post your comments below and you could be mentioned in my next blog on the subject!