Sunday 17 August 2014

Random thoughts on How to Write a Be$t $eller

First things first - does it seem like he wrote this backwards?  There's not a lot of evidence that he read too many other best sellers.  Shouldn't he have read, say, the 10 best-selling books from the last 5 years and looked for similarities, consistencies, patterns, etc?  Instead, he comes up with his theories of what a best seller is and then looks for examples to prove his point.  And when he does use an example - the titles of the top 10 best sellers from a random week in 1983 to show you how important a title can be - 8 of the 10 don't mesh with his theory that the title should tell you what the book is about.

In this incredibly slight book (125 very stretched out pages), was there a  minimum number of times he had to mention the words "best seller".  I'm guessing "4 times per page" might be an underestimate.  By the end of the first few pages, it's obvious that "best seller"  denotes a genre unto itself - that's the only thing worth writing, so why are you considering anything else?

His notion of the best seller gets to be weirdly obsessive - it reminds me of that episode of The Flintstones where Fred decides to get rich as a songwriter and he's only going to write one kind of song -hit songs.

Rohmer tells us that there are only two fundamental kinds of novels - character novels and action novels.  The latter is the way you want to go if you want to write a best seller, otherwise you're wasting the reader's time by making him read too much about a character when they are here for action, action, action.  Would it be mean to mention James Bond, George Smiley, Lew Archer, Travis McGhee, Jason Bourne, etc etc, here?

So I imagine a good example of the extensive research that one is supposed to do in preparation for writing can be seen in the extensive quotes throughout the book from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift or Anthony Powell - all of which were major influences, I'm sure.  In fact, Exodus UK could have been the 13th volume of A Dance To The Music of Time.

Great advice:  "Avoid using words your reader won't know".

Every book needs a villain:  And here that would be the Publisher.  More unscrupulous even than the hit man in Separation 2

Physician, heal thyself: "Use dialogue whenever possible to replace otherwise boring descriptive passages"


"...stories about how a fat girl in New York copes with her sexual problems. Whatever." (pg. 16)

"...your daily stint at the typewriter or whatever is over." (pg. 65)

"Buy yourself a treat when you finish the first hundred pages.  Take a week off after two hundred. Whatever." (pg 66)

" Write and ask if they'd be interested in seeing your novel about growing up in the Arctic, or your expose on trout fishing, or whatever."(pg. 91)

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