Why Do Successful Authors such as David Baldacci Seem to Write the Same Novel Over and Over?
The Sixth Man
Keeping Writing Fresh
When I first wrote this Hub, I had just read David Baldacci's latest two novels, The Sixth Man, and One Summer. The Sixth Man follows the themes that Baldacci has been wildly successful with, that is: government corruption, greed, power, lawyers, guns, murder and fast paced action. One Summer is so different, that if Baldacci's name wasn't on the cover, I wouldn't have guessed that he wrote it. The main character in One Summer centers on the physical and internal struggles of an ex Army Ranger, Jack Armstrong, who believes that he will die in a week or two, leaving behind his wife and family. He is full of regrets, especially for a loss of closeness with his children. Then the unthinkable happens and his wife is killed in an auto accident. In a miracle situation, he begins to get better, which is the easy part of his struggle, because then he is forced to deal with the practical details of living and the feelings he must deal with in order to put his family relationships in order. I had tremendous fun reading the book reviews about One Summer. Readers and critics didn't have any middle ground. One reviewer wrote that the book was "Heartwarming and lovely...for it's treatment of a man and his family suffering." The other reader bluntly stated that she thought that Danielle Steel had taken over Baldacci's brain, and that she was so disappointed that the novel was not written in Baldacci's "Camel Club thriller suspense" style. After reading Innocent last week, I can see that as long as "formula" books such as Baldacci's theme of corruption within governments works, and a tough guy who is magically dodging bullets still sells books, then why change?
All of us who write, whether we appreciate an author's work or hate their style, should be awestruck of authors who have had this much success. The work that goes into writing one book and having the book published is tremendous. Still the question I often struggle with is two part. First, most newly published books are costly, and most people want to know that the time they will invest into reading the book will be well spent. So I often struggle with the choice of buying a book of an author whose previous books I have enjoyed, or do I spend the money on a new author's work that I will find more challenging? The second part of the question that plagues me each week is should I write only on the topics that I'm safe with, or should I try and challenge myself to write on unfamiliar topics that will require more of my time?
Think about the authors that you read. When I first discovered the legal suspense books written by John Grisham, I couldn't put them down, but by his 5th novel The Runaway Jury, Grisham had discovered the key to what his fans expected, but his writing was on the way to being formulaic. Grisham took a risk by writing, A Painted House, which is a fantastic coming of age story set in Grisham's memories of growing up in the South. While I don't believe that A Painted Housewas as big a commercial success as some of Grisham's crime and corruption novels, it has a timeless appeal. I hung in tight by reading Janet Evanovich's first eight novels in her Stephanie Plum bail bondsman series because of Evanovich's fantastic humor, but enough is enough for me. Living in Arizona, I've been lucky enough to hear J A (Judy) Jance, noted mystery author, speak on several occasions. I loved her Joanna Brady series set in Bisbee Arizona, and she was smart enough to switch characters and write the Ali Reynolds series set in Sedona Arizona. Judy shared with me that she had written about the Ali character before most of the Joanna Brady novels, but that she'd completed the novel at a much later date. J A also employed the writing device of switching from a female to a male persona in her J.P. Beaumont mystery series. The last time I heard J A speak, she was trying to sell a book of poems that she had written that was not a commercial success like her novels, but meaningful to her just the same. One thing I have always appreciated about her writing that is a good lesson for all writers is the fact that if you choose to write about a real location such as Bisbee then the street names and other descriptive details should be real. J A Jance has been very accurate. She also shared the writer's tip that many of the ideas for her writing have been rooted in personal incidents.
Read Read Read
How to Write a Mystery
J. A Jance
Commercial or Artistic Success? Or both?
Obviously, writers are not the only "creators" who have the problem of sticking with what has been successful in the past, or having the courage to take artistic risks. For those who have ever heard the song, "Garden Party" in its original version by Rick Nelson, the song's lyrics were written after Rick Nelson performed at an oldies rock and roll review at Madison Square Garden. Nelson preformed "Hello Mary Lou" and another 1950s oldie that he had made famous. Then Nelson switched to his newer more country sound. The fans booed him or in an alternate version, he thought that he was being booed, and he promptly left the stage. The event prompted Nelson to write "Garden Party" (1972) the "hook" line which is "You Can't Please Everyone, so You've Got to Please Yourself" and he ended the song "Garden Party" with the words, "If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck."
In the last analysis, keeping any creative art fresh isn't an easy thing. If money is the motivator, a writer will write what sells. If a writer is under a contract, they will write what their editor/publisher wants. I once had a young writer show me a book she was about to send out to various publishers in the hope of having it published. She told me that the book was "all done." From years of experience with editors, I gently told her that most likely if the book did find a publisher, a new phase of work on the book would begin. She promptly told me that she would refuse to change a single word. Hah, I thought. That certainly isn't the way things usually work.
One of the oldest devices for keeping fresh is to change persona, genre or style. Try writing non-fiction if you usually write fiction, or switch to writing dialogue. Try writing a "how to" piece instead of poetry. Try writing something a child would enjoy. Write your own biography for at least a week. Is it an honest portrayal? Share your work with a writing group or at least a good reader. Attend a writing retreat, or create one for your fellow writing friends. Write something that you never intend to share. Write a letter to someone who you will never send it to. What would your pet write about if he or she could write? Write in the futuristic tense. Read, read, read and read styles and authors you don't ordinarily choose to determine what styles and writing devices might improve your own writing.
When I was eight, I discovered the Nancy Drew mystery series. I read every volume in that series I could get my hands on. The volumes went on and on with Nancy and her trusty friends solving mystery after mystery, but by the time I was eleven, I could already pick out the bad guys or girls and I quit reading them. I wish some of our best loved authors who value creativity would understand this principle. Everyone likes to remain in their "comfort zone" but by virtue that writing is a creative art, all writers need to reinvent and create.
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