The Surprising Secret of Bestselling Fiction? Using Non-Fiction

Here’s proof that thriller writers have more fun.

In his workshop on using non-fiction techniques in fiction, bestselling thriller author, Douglas Preston, pointed out that successful thrillers like Coma, The Firm and Raise the Titanic are, at their core,  non-fiction. So how do you integrate your passions about the real world into your fictional world?

First, write down three areas of your specialized knowledge. I chose Travel Writing, History and Public Relations for the federal government. You might think that last one is boring, but consider where Dan Brown’s latest blockbuster, The Lost Symbol, is set.

Now write down five goals you want to achieve before you die. As you can see from my author bio, I’ve been lucky enough to experience many wonderful adventures. In the workshop, I came up with five more:

  1. Go on another African safari, this time with my family.
  2. Go on an Alaskan wilderness trip.
  3. See the Taj Mahal.
  4. Stay at one of those huts perched over the beautiful waters off Bali.
  5. Raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with my family.

The goal of these exercises is two-fold. You not only should integrate your life into your fiction, but integrate your fiction into your life. For instance, if your novel involves a car chase, go to a hands-on lesson on race car driving. You’ll not only have a blast, but will use that reality to make your fiction more believable.

In my case, I used my interest in history and my goal to see the Taj Mahal by integrating the fascinating story behind the Kohinoor Diamond into The Seventh Stone. Preston told us his readers thank him for teaching them about an aspect of the real world through his entertaining stories. As a reader, I always enjoy learning through fiction, whether it’s historical, an insight into another culture or a scientific concept.

So go ahead and pursue your passions in your real life so your fiction can be more “real.” Your readers will thank you.

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