There is no magic formula, no conjuring spell. No eye of newt, and toe of frog. No wool of bat, and tongue of dog.
Oh, you’ll find a few who would claim otherwise – people quick to sell you the secrets to a guaranteed bestseller. But they are charlatans. Or fools.
There is no such thing as a magic formula for a guaranteed bestseller.
You can’t reverse-engineer J. K. Rowling’s books, find out what makes them tick, then build a better Hagrid. You can’t boil Hunger Games down to the bones then wrap new, equally tempting skin on it.
The secret of a bestselling book is mostly invisible, organic, unpredictable; a creeping vine that winds through the words then burrows under a reader’s skin and wraps around the heart. It’s a thing that never quite reveals itself, proving its existence only by the trail of impossibly enthralled evangelists left in its wake.
Of course, this doesn’t stop writers and editors and publishers and pundits from trying to define its shape. And why not? We all want it – even those of us who wear the gray hoodie of humility emblazoned with that well-meaning but tired mantra, “I write because I can’t not write.”
We want people to love our words. We want people to buy our books. Not because we’re particularly greedy. (We’ll only buy one Tuscan villa.) But because we want our stories to matter. To resonate. To change people. To inspire people.
And, yeah, to pay the bills so we have time and inclination to write more books.
There is no magic forumla for success.
There is, however, magic.
It appears unexpected. In a sentence that brings a gasp. In a twist that spins you dizzy. In the spark and crackle between words, the infinite ache below them, the impossible buzz above.
It’s what happens when the characters suddenly become real, when the plot takes on a life of its own. It’s the surprise that draws us closer to the monitor, unsure what just happened but longing for more.
It’s the root of that creeping invisible vine and we wants it, my precious.
So we chase it. We try to understand it. Corral it. Analyze it. Engineer it.
Sigh. Will we ever learn?
A writer can’t invoke magic. Story is its only enchanter.
And that, my friends, is the end of the post.
What were you expecting? A formula? Sigh. Okay, try this: the better the storyteller, the more the magic; the more the magic, the happier the readers; the happier the readers, the more likely they’ll become impossibly enthralled evangelists. You can do the rest of the math yourself.
Now go out there and become a better storyteller. In case you’re wondering it’s a simple three-step process:
Read. Write. Repeat.
Have a nice day.