I recently had lunch with a very successful writer friend, who has been delighted to find his last four books landing high on the New York Times bestseller list. His success is well deserved. He works extremely hard every day, and he never hesitates to help out writers and others. He even picked up the tab for our lunch.
Our conversation roamed from past mutual projects, to mutual friends, to ongoing publishing activities. Here my friend paused before giving credit to another bestselling writer for teaching him a number of the traits common to the genre of fast moving thrillers on the bestseller list. He then listed those things in quick succession:
- Never use a dollar word when a nickel word will do. Don't use "cacophony" when "loud" makes your point.
- Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short chapters.
- Never over describe a room. Pick out one feature and move on.
- The same applies to what a character is wearing.
- Use dialogue to drive your story.
- Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.
- Simplify your plotting, then simplify it some more, then some more. If a reader has to backtrack to figure out what was going during their last reading session, you're doing it wrong.
I must confess, this list initially blew past me. I like the word cacophony, and (as a reader) I'm not much of a fan of what is on The New York Times bestseller list.
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