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.

Making Mr. Right – Love Will Find a Way in Fiction

I recently and, I admit, somewhat reluctantly, attended a workshop led by Mindy Starns Clark. Her bio cast her as a romance writer, a Christian romance writer. I’m a thriller writer, so I wondered if what she had to say would be relevant. Then again, she had mentioned on another conference panel that one of her books sold 75,000 copies, and she was a former stand-up comedian. I decided to give it a try. As it turns out, her talk was both entertaining and enlightening. Here’s what I learned. As you review each one, think about how you can use these elements to enhance your novel.

Writers make Three Common Mistakes in writing the love interest:

1. Creating a perfect guy for you and not your character.

2. Using classic romance novel clichés, like the feisty redhead butts heads with but ultimately falls in love with the tough guy.

3. Using common idioms to describe relationships. “I love him with all my heart” vs. “He carved off the crust of the peanut butter sandwich before giving it to her.” Love is very specific.

So how should you define Mr. Right?

First, define the heroine’s arc, her journey, her growth and change. She may start out stifled, repressed, bored, but in the end she breaks free and is happy (think Beauty and the Beast). Defining her arc defines Mr. Right.

To build the heroine’s arc:

1. Sometimes it’s easier to start at the end of the arc, then decide on the beginning, like working backwards on a tricky maze.

2. If love is part of her journey, Mr. Right is the one who gives her what she needs when she needs it. He will get her to the end of her arc.

3. Make him  the right choice for her, then lead her to see why he is the right choice for her. Where she is weak, he is strong. Where she is strong, he is weak. Together, they complete the puzzle.

As I listened, I realized that these principles can enhance any thriller. The key to a compelling story is to bond the reader with the lead character and, as I mentioned in another post, one key element drives us all, the desire to be loved. It is a part of all that we do, and every story we read.