Ulysses or Sherlock? Vast amount of writing blogs give advice to newbies on how to write commercial fiction. This type of text, I call it text not literature, has a primary goal to SELL. To achieve that, it needs to entertain. However, there is a difference between art and entertainment.
(Here is the right time to exclaim in disgust at my snobbery, but I carry on.)
A true literature, the art of word, can hardly become best-selling, unless of course you are selling a sleeping pill. A teenage romance book can however fly off like meals at McDonalds, but do you want to cater just fast food? If you are like me, you want to be in a so-called mass culture market. The art for masses!
Many world’s super-bestsellers are in fact a combination of literary and commercial fiction.
Writers like Haruki Murakami and Michel Houellebecq write literary yet commercial fiction. Do you want to be like them? I’m here for suggestions. Got a cup of tea, sitting comfortably, fed the cat? Let’s start.
Grisha’s formula of a literary best-seller (absolutely for free, but share with others)
1. an exciting story dazzling your imagination
2. deep and controversial characters
3. a conflict many people will find interesting
4. a theme working with new ideas or a new way of looking on the established ones … All multiplied by
5. a dynamic structure (not a chaotic racing of thoughts like my posts lol)
If other components are missing, the reader will likely forgive you as long as these five are a smash. Pay attention to number 4. Ideas! Memes! Spread like viruses.
Let us examine Stieg Larsson’s unexpected masterpiece A girl with the dragon tattoo. Yes, many writers hate it, yet it’s clearly a mega-bestseller. I discussed the reasons of its success with several people, some dismissing it as the weird outlier (I won’t give the names), others finding its appeal in the pulsing socioeconomic and political themes.
To me this trilogy’s success is all about scoring high in the each part of my formula.
Story: mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl, the puzzle of the enframed dried plants, the serial killer investigation, the crooked oligarch sidestory. A totally wild mix.
Characters: Lisbeth and Mikael, – resourceful, loners yet capable of working in fruitful collaboration, sexually liberated, full of skeletons-in-closets. A central heroine – with suspected Asperger’s syndrome. Already too much to endure.
Conflct: simply put I call this trilogy a Thrillogy. Every page has a confict, the books at times are too gritty.
Themes: violance against women and children, personal struggle for acceptance, small person against big crooks, civil rights and duties, presumption of innocence, human endurance, mental health and responsible journalism, etc.
Dynamic structure: so dynamic in fact, that once you are through the initial hurdle (first hundred of pages of the glue hardening), you are basically stuck! You start thinking like a sub sitting on a bench waiting to go out there instead of a fallen minor character and to kick some arse!
It’s true, the book takes a hundred pages to kick in (some books never kick in, still you don’t necessarily dump them in the bin ). Have patience. Of course, not for every book. But at least for something that has depth and been recommended by your friends whose taste you trust. Why do I think ‘The Girl’ trilogy became a best-seller? Because it managed to touch and change something very deep in us, so those slow first hundred pages were worth it.
Ultimately, be excited you, the borderliner, you, the weird outlier! You can write both for litcrits and teens, it is possible to write beyond the genre/market constraints.
It is just harder.
But then, if it what you are, stay what you are (and remember to learn and progress). Let others try to be popular or smart. If you stay yourself, you are more likely to be both.