If you’re a writer than you know that fame and fortune are probably not in your future. Writing a “Harry Potter” or a “Hunger Games” is like winning the lottery. Sure, you always could but the odds are against you. Of course there are always the “experts” who have advice on beating the odds. James W. Hall is one such expert who details in his 2012 book, “Hit Lit” what makes a bestseller.
The recipe is a big spoonful of sex, a dash of religion and a dollop of politics. It is hardly a secret formula but Hall explains how these taboo topics of cocktail parties can make a blockbuster book. He focuses on bestsellers from the past couple of decades, explaining their success.
One such example is “Jaws” in which a naked woman is chomped in half by a vicious shark on the first page—attention sufficiently grabbed. Who isn’t going to turn the page?
I am not going to argue that an audience isn’t often titillated by salacious stories or doesn’t have a morbid curiosity about certain sub-cultures and their secretive and strange practices but is selling big all that is important?
Hall warns against including any introspective characters in a book that you wish to have wild success. Explaining the characters of these popular books, Hall observes that these characters aren’t contemplative; they are set against larger forces. I disagree on two points.
First, a character who is set in opposition against larger social issues is never free from self-examination. One of the books Hall references is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is a personal favorite. A character such as Atticus Finch who is set against the conflict of the civil-rights struggle must and does reflect upon his own beliefs and motives. Perhaps there are not paragraphs of exhaustive description about his internal struggles but the introspection exists and so it should. After all, how can one be a part of and/or a participant in a larger social context without understanding his own motives and questioning his own integrity?
Second, in a fast-paced world already submerged in sound bytes where experiences and emotions are described in texts—complete with emoticons and abbreviations, is a page-turning, fast pace plot-driven story the only one of interest? Isn’t there also a place and need for beautiful prose, descriptive scenes, and reflective characters capable of introspection?
So I challenge writers and wannabe writers to ask, “What kind of writer do I want to be?”
There are writers and then there are those who just want to turn a quick, fast buck by producing a best-seller regardless of the conviction behind it.
Remember there are always two reasons to choose a profession. It is to either make money or make a difference. You can become the doctor to drive the expensive car or you can be the doctor who heals. You can become the teacher who gets his summers off or the teacher who imparts knowledge. You can be the writer who loves stories and wants to share them or the writer who wants to have the next bestseller and make the money.
Does that mean that a bestseller isn’t quality fiction? Does that mean that a quality piece of fiction can’t be a bestseller? No. But it does mean that as a writer you need to decide your reasons for writing.
I write because I love prose; I love telling stories; I love sharing these stories. I write because I want to show a new perspective, start a dialogue and try to make a change.
And I believe that as a writer if you practice a little introspection and decide who you truly are as a writer then when you put pen to paper you will create the write stuff.
Thank you for reading. I’m excited to hear what you think.