How to Create an Instant Bestselling Novel
to Create an Instant Bestselling Novel
How to Create an Instant Bestselling Novel
by Cliff Pickover
Please consider the following helpful tips. These will make it easier
to get your stories or novels published. These tips will help you write
good fiction in general.
First, buy a National Geographic magazine. Page through it and select a
setting. Look at the photos to help you create vivid descriptions. Look at each photo, and become immersed in each photo.
Dive into it. Try to smell the scents. Listen to the sounds. Feel the sand beneath your toes, the water lapping at your feet. The cry of the gulls.
In the distance, I hear the laughter of a little girl. Oh God, what's that I see in the seaweed beneath my feet? (Now, read more below….)
Show Not Tell
It's better to show through a character's actions
than "tell" by having the narrator describe. Please do not "tell."
Example 1: "Garth became nervous" is "telling."
It is better to "show" with: "Garth's hands trembled."
Example 2: "Garth did not want to go down the
hall with the Major" is "telling." It is better to "show" with: "What?"
Garth said. "There's no way in hell I'm going with you!"
Occasional reference to body movement and scene interaction
is important so that
characters are not disembodied talking heads. It's also important to occasionally
use body movement before a person talks, in order to establish who is talking.
"When are you going to leave for France?" John asked.
could be cast as:
John took a slow breath. "When are you going to leave
(Many times beginning authors make it hard to figure
out who is talking, but a quick reference to body movement before the speaker
speaks makes it all clear.)
Short Better Than Long
In real life, people often talk in short sentences
and phrases, rather than in long drawn-out sentences with big words. Another
dialog tip: use contractions often. For example, a character may be
more apt to say "I'll" than "I will."
Break the Dialog
Always insert a "he said" or "she said" as early as
possible into a line of dialog (if a "he said" is even needed at all).
Never do: "Yes, I will kill him, but not until you buy
the peaches for dinner," he said.
"Yes," he said, "I will kill him, but not until you buy
the peaches for dinner."
Use Active Voice
Don't say: "The paper was placed on the wall by the
doctor." Use active voice: "The doctor placed the paper on the wall."
Avoid Omniscient Narrator
Books have more immediacy if you stay within one character's
head and therefore the narrator does not have knowledge of what other people
are thinking. For example, if you are in Jake's head, we are
in Jake's head for most of the book. We can't suddenly know how Melinda
is feeling. Jake doesn't read her mind. We can suggest how she feels through
Jake's opinions and what he sees and hears, and what she says and does.
(Some people use an omniscient narrator, but the best books
Don't Rush The Scene
If a scene sounds rushed, with too little attention
to detail and texture, then more words are needed to draw out the action
If you are unsure if the dialog sounds natural, read
it out loud to yourself. This is a great way to make sure the dialog is
Involve All Senses
To really get the reader involved, try to stimulate
more of the reader's senses. For example, if you've gone ten pages without
stimulating the reader (and character in the book) with an odor, or
tactile feeling, sound, or taste, the book will have less immediacy.
I notice some beginning writers seem to
dislike using "said" and try to replace the word "said" with words like
commanded, remarked, uttered, began, etc. Perhaps they feel that too many
"saids" stick out. However, you don't have to be afraid of using too many
"saids." In fact, it is much worse to try substitutions. The best writers
use "said" almost all the time and let the dialog convey the meaning. For
"Get out of here now!" he commanded.
is much worse than
"Get out of here now!" he said.
The word "commanded" is an unnecessary distraction. In
any case, it's obvious the sentence is a command. When readers read "said",
their eyes barely pause. The "said" goes almost unnoticed. This is what
you want. Replacement words, such as "remarked", stick out obtrusively,
which is what you don't want. For these reasons, some authors don't even
use "he asked" for questions; rather they do: "Where is it?" he said.
Don't Begin To
Don't have your characters "begin to do something," "try to do something," and so forth.
Just have them do it.
Example: "Mary began to skip down the block." Change to "Mary skipped down the block."
Avoid "as he"
Avoid excessive "as he" constructs. Example: "Mary turned on the TV as she thought
all the time about Joe." Change to: "Mary turned on the TV, thinking
all the time about Joe." Or, better yet: "Mary turned on the TV and thought about Joe."
Provide Character Reactions
Example: When something is said or done to a character that is out
of the ordinary, have the character respond. New writers often forget to
show the responses of characters before moving on with the plot.
Which or That?
Use "which" with a comma when the phrase seems as if it could easily
be set off with parentheses and
Examples with "that" and "which": 1) I like dogs that bark. 2)
I like the German Shepherd species, which has pointed ears, a tan coat, and teeth that rip.
The Bestseller Plan
author creates compelling characters and natural dialog,
he or she is 90% of the way to success. My feeling is that the
in which a writer writes is actually more important than the plot.
Stephen King, who writes so well, could write a novel about a peanut
butter sandwich and it would be great.
- First, browse to Cliff Pickover's Tips for Writers
- Second, browse to the New York Times
recipe for creating
an instant bestseller.
- Third, browse to the Lester Dent
magical recipe for creating a best seller.
- My additional advice:
- Buy a National Geographic magazine. Page through it and select a
setting. Look at the photos to help you create vivid descriptions.
- Your novel should have two main characters C1 and C2 (a man and a woman) and
two secondary characters C3 and C4 (also a man and a woman).
C1 should fall in love with C2 during the course of the book, or, if
already in love, their love should deepen. A subliminal attraction
should also exist between C1 and C4 to increase tension.
Character C1 should have a special skill that will help him (or her) solve
problems presented in the book.
- At some point in the book, C1 and C2 should show a physical expression
of their attraction, such as exhibited by holding hands or kissing.
- A dangerous condition should exist throughout much of the book.
- The dangerous condition should appear to be mitigated at some point
in the book but come back to haunt the characters.
Avoid any long descriptions that slow down the pace.
Practice keeping the pace of your novel brisk by allowing no
paragraph to be more than five sentences. (You can relax this
prohibition later in a few places if you find it absolutely
- Start your book with something that grabs the reader's attention.
Make your first sentence shine.
- Don't use flashbacks. They break the flow of the book.
- Never submit a work without having several people proofread it first.
Buy this book by Morrell to learn how to write fiction. (Click cover)
Buy the most recent version of this book by Herman to learn how to sell your book. (Click cover)
"Like" or "As If"
The word "like" should not be used preceding a clause with a subject
and a verb. Examples:
It felt like a furry ball.
It felt as if a furry ball rolled around in his stomach.
- Split Infinitive
Some publishers ask that you don't put an adverb between "to" and "verb."
Wrong: "to carefully create." Correct:
"to create carefully." (However, I tend to disregard this rule whenever it sounds "wrong" to my ear.
You can usually ignore this rule, too.)
Reduce wordiness by changing:
"stooped down" to "stoop"
"rose up" to "rose"
"penetrated through" to "penetrate"
"caught sight of" to "saw"
"in the event that" to "if"
"at the present time" to "now"
"towards" to "toward"
"besides" to "beside"
- To Lie/To Lay
The verb form of lay takes an object, and lie does not. Example:
He laid the shovel on the ground.
He wanted to lie on the ground.
"Since" should be used when time is involved.
I have been sad since you arrived.
Use because when implying a cause.
I have been sad because my house burned down.
- Each Other/One Another
"Each other" is used when you refer to two people. "One another" is used
when you refer to three or more people.
Example: Mindy and John bumped into each other.
- Participial Phrases
Modifying phrases that start with verbs ending in"ing" or "ed" require a
comma before the phrase.
He pushed the ball, using a can of peaches.
If you can't figure out when to use whoever or whomever, substitute the word "he."
If it sounds better to use "him," than use whomever. Is 1 or 2 (below) correct?
1. It was as if whoever had killed them....
2. It was as if whomever had killed them....
"It was as if he" sounds better than "it was as if him," so use whoever.
Farther is used to refer to physical distance.
She runs farther than I do.
Further is an adverb meaning to a greater degree.
I want further training.
- Commas and Adjectives
Separate two or more adjectives with commas if each adjective modifies
the noun equally.
They are brave, studious students.
This was a beautiful Persian carpet.
(Here "beautiful" modifies the Persian carpet.)
Use rise (rose, risen) when you mean to move upward.
Use raise (raised) when an object is being moved upward.
Joe raised his foot.
Joe rose early in the morning.
- On to/Onto
Use onto when you mean "to a position on"
He tossed the spider onto the table.
He held on to her foot.
Should you use "insectlike" or "insect-like?"
Do not precede "like" with a hyphen unless the
letter "l" would be tripled: bill-like, lifelike, businesslike,
Do precede like with a hyphen if the word is three syllables,
Do precede like with a hyphen if the word is a proper name, e.g.
Clinton-like. Exception, use Christlike.
Do precede like with a hyphen if the word is a compound word.
On the other hand, when "like" is a prefix...
Follow with a hyphen when used as a prefix meaning similar to, e.g.
No hyphen are used in words that have meanings of their own, e.g. likelihood,
The subjunctive form of the verb is used to express something contrary to fact.
Use "were" in all of the following:
If I were king...
I wish you were here...
It was as if I were...
Usually, "as if" and "as though" suggest a subjunctive mood.
The following sentence (which starts with if) is not contrary to fact so it is not subjunctive:
"Jack didn't know what color the dog was. If the dog was black, Joe could find it in the snow."
Ellipses can be used to indicate a pause in dialogue or a trailing off
of dialogue. If a complete sentence is fading, use four dots, with
no space between the final word and the four dots.
(One of the dots serves as a period.) If a sentence fragment is
trailing off, use three dots, leaving a space between
the end of the final word
and the first dot.
Clifford A. Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is
the author of 40 highly-acclaimed books on such topics as
computers, art, religion, mathematics, black holes, human
intelligence, time travel, and alien life. His web site,
Pickover.com, has received millions of visits.
to Cliff Pickover's home page which includes computer art, educational
puzzles, higher dimensions, fractals, virtual caverns, JAVA/VRML, alien
creatures, black hole artwork, and animations. Click here
for a complete list of over 40 Cliff Pickover books.