Monday, February 17, 2014

What can elevate our well-crafted stories into best sellers?

Ana muses on what makes a best selling story?

I had a touch of flu this weekend and rested with the television on--proving that this (my) human mind craves occupation and distraction. This led me to contemplate the adage that stories have been around as long as people have. We need stories, whether we think them up or we watch  (listen) to the stories told by others.

Sports (like the Olympics) are a form of story. There's drama, suspense, uncertain outcomes, players with backstories and triumphs and tragedies.

Films are another form of storytelling. My husband recently discovered the classic movie channel, and we watched Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night.

The 1939 story premise is: A spoiled socialite marries a fortune hunter whom her doting father dislikes. When her father holds her on his yacht in Miami, hoping she'll reconsider, she escapes and boards a bus for New York City. A passenger, gritty newspaper man Clark Gable, recognizes her and sees an opportunity. He offers to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. 

As writers, we teach ourselves to write realistic characters, but there's obviously a market for extremes--the spunky heiress falls for the handsome, broke writer. Depression-era audiences loved Frank Capra's story, and it set the template for romantic comedies. 

So what types of characters / stories are highly marketable today? What can turn our well-crafted stories into best-sellers? 

Billionaire orphans with erotic dungeons sell. Saving the galaxy from cruel tyrants sells. A socialite, blind to her husband's theft of her wealth, is reduced to selling shoes to her former friends sells. Teenage vampires sell. 

What do these blockbusters have in common? To my mind, they have implausible plots. Yet this is what audiences crave--to escape into exotic settings, lose themselves in outrageous plots, and temporarily become larger than life characters. 


  1. The scenarios you've listed hold no appeal whatsoever for me, Ana. Obviously some people like them because, as you say, those books sell. However, I'm not interested in reading anything about vampires, or far off galaxies, pr pages of erotica etc etc, therefore I have no interest in writing them!

  2. There is something to be said about escapism.

    And I'm all about Clark Gable!

  3. Oh, Clark Gable is the dream hero, IMO. You may know this story: In "It Happened One Night," the director had Gable sans undershirt in a scene when he had to "undress" around Colbert because removing the undershirt after his regular shirt would muss his hair.
    Sales of underwear plummeted for years.

    Think about how potato chips and candy have been revved up with flavorings and seasonings. FDA research shows that the additives seasoning snacks are addictive. Feeding to young children hooks their brain cells into craving more. Vegetables don't taste so good. This leads to childhood obesity and diabetes.

    The craving for Jazzed up plots and settings is just as plausible.