Fiction Writing: A Simple Way to Approach a Blockbuster Story
While I was editing this into shape (such as it is) I started chewing around the idea of learning to write blockbuster stories.
The simplicity of any story (not “plot”) is this:
Character(s) with a problem, somewhere.
That’s all there is to writing any story.
Now, consider what Albert Zuckerman defined in his “Writing the Blockbuster Novel” (and all that’s really new in that huge book of his):
High Stakes – “The first thing to note about a big novel is that what’s at stake is high—for a character, a family, sometimes a whole nation. The life of at least one major character is usually in peril. But more than that, in this type of book the individual at risk often represents not just himself, but a community, a city, an entire country.”
Dramatic Question – “[T]he book’s spine—the ongoing central conflict around which its major characters interact, the main issue that drives and unites its myriad scenes—couldn’t be more basic and clear-cut. This novelistic foundation is its suspense factor, which I call the dramatic question.”
High Concept – “[I]n essence a radical or even somewhat outlandish premise. Can a young lawyer escape a seemingly respectable law firm that secretly launders money for the Mafia, whose hoods kill any attorney who even talks about trying to leave?”
Setting – “Readers of popular books enjoy escaping into the minds, hearts, and vicissitudes of fictional characters, but they also like to be drawn into new, unfamiliar, and even exotic environments.”
Larger-Than-Life Characters – “Characters in fiction, as in life, are defined by what they do, and in big novels the main characters do extraordinary things.”
Multiple Points of View – “The story is not primarily narrated by an omniscient author or by a single character in the novel in the first person, but rather expressed through the feelings, thoughts, and sensibilities of a small number of major characters.”
Now, boil that down to essentials:
Ordinary, relatable characters find themselves placed in a dramatic, high stakes situation – where they search within themselves to take extraordinary actions – in order to resolve an eternal theme that is presented through a radical premise – and who describe the developing story through their own feelings, thoughts, and sensibilities – all while performing in an unfamiliar and even exotic environment (to the reader).
- Ordinary, relatable characters find themselves placed
- in a dramatic, high stakes situation –
- where they search within themselves to take extraordinary actions –
- in order to resolve an eternal theme that is presented through a radical premise –
- and who describe the developing story through their own feelings, thoughts, and sensibilities –
- all while performing in an unfamiliar and even exotic environment (to the reader).
This gives us a model and a checklist to ask ourselves of any story that comes our way (or is currently queued up in your inspiration).
And this is all in addition to weaving the three physical story structures through your story of romance, mystery, and adventure.
The “eternal theme” point can be rectified by regularly reading the perennial-sellers and also consulting William Wallace Cook’s “Plotto” as well as the “Max Brand” series of books (which are all classic stories placed in a Western genre.) Also, you could take the original Star Trek TV shows, as these were all morality plays in a science fiction genre.
Pacing will be dictated by how close to a thriller you want to have the action. Fiction Writing: A Simple Way to Approach a Blockbuster Story
Luck to us all. May our muses smile on us…
Also published on Medium.