How to write a bestselling novel: the Dan Brown secret
To find ideas for publishable stories is simplicity itself
But first, let me tell you about my little daughter.
In fact, she’s 23, 5ft 10in tall, an aikido black belt (nearly), and five years ago she trekked across Greenland with fellow students, sleeping rough on icebergs. Her scheme leaders taught her to use a rifle in the event of a polar bear attack. They then flew off in a helicopter.
Sure enough, on her last night, a bear snuffled up to her tent...
Okay, I shall get to the point.
She has just taken her BSc in Earth Sciences. It required her to submit a dissertation on the allotropic properties of the rare earth yitrium. (Please do stay awake. This is important!)
She now wants to write a best-selling novel.
‘Oh, how can my puny experience equip me to go macho a macho with Dan Brown?’ she wailed.
How to go macho a macho with Dan Brown
‘Simple,’ I said. ‘Set your novel in Greenland. (Instant Ecological Topicality plus nice scenery.) The narrator is your avatar. Suppose her (that is, your) nerdish fiancé has stumbled on a vast deposit of yitrium, vital for computers and a priceless dwindling resource. The Russians want it. The CIA wants it. He wants it, to fund your honeymoon together in Morecambe Bay.
‘Everyone is trying to kill him, including his fiancée (you), Inexplicably, she doesn’t want a honeymoon in Morecambe Bay.
‘The lovers are pursued by mysterious assassins through endless ice tunnels, glaciers crashing around their heads.’ (Labyrinths are very fashionable nowadays, I said. Ask Dan Brown.)
‘Tosh,’ she replied. ‘Only trivial deposits of yitrium have ever been recorded in Greenland.’
I tutted. ‘Think of your £500,000 advance from Random House.’
She mourned. ‘What of my scientific reputation?’
‘Think of the movie rights,’ I said.
‘What of my intended career at BP?’ she riposted. ‘Such as may, in three years time, still be left of it?’
‘Think of Johnny Depp in the title role,’ I said. ‘You could be his technical adviser.’
With a graceful kaeshiwaza gesture, she threw the kitchen table over her left shoulder.
‘Sod BP,’ she said. ‘When do we start?’
What is the point of this foolish tale?
Simply, that you can find stories anywhere.
Suppose your lifetime experience goes no further than crochet or pet care, car mechanics or growing exhibition marrows. What a thriller Agatha Christie might have written, just with those components!
Let’s imagine... Miss Marple’s gardener grows exhibition marrows that are being poisoned by an envious car mechanic in the village. The fiendish plot is revealed by the astute nose of her pet cat. Somebody gets murdered along the way, needless to say.
Who was the murderer? Miss Marple drops her crochet hook when she realises the dreadful truth. The murderer was... the cat!
The plot of my daughter’s Greenland tale (provisionally titled Ice Scream) is a tested Dan Brown - if not Agatha Christie - formula.
The tested Dan Brown formula
First, we have a Quest for a priceless treasure (Basic Plot #1). Two lovers - humorously at odds with each other (Light Relief ) - embark on the perilous journey. (A Journey is always a metaphor for self-discovery.)
The Forces of Evil oppose them. (These are emblems, at an allegorical level, for the Darkness in their own souls.)
The story twists back and forth across a photogenic Setting. (That’s important to hammer down the film rights.)
Closure is achieved when the lovers, blissfully enlightened by self-knowledge, seal their wedding vows at Westminster Abbey. With a ring of... 24-carat yitrium! (Yes, I know you can’t make wedding rings out of yitrium. This is a Dan Brown novel, remember?)
Apply this formula and your publishing success is assured. Add a touch of allegory and you’re in line for a top writing award.
Excuse me for a moment. I have to go dig my little daughter out of an ice tunnel. Metaphorically speaking.
You will find an endless further supply of free writing tips at Writers' Village
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