Dan Brown. The man who has sold more books worldwide than any other author…his books have only been outsold by the Bible. Which is sort of funny, if you think about it.
I was chatting to a colleague at the watercooler – as you do – and he asked me what I did over the holiday…so I mentioned that I got quite a bit done on my novel (brave move for me as I try not to talk about it too much as it used to be an embarrassing thing….are all budding authors like this?). I digress. Young colleague, lets call him YC, to make things easier, and he asked me firstly:
“Are you writing a Mills & Boone romance?” at which I burst out laughing and said no, not quite.
Then he looked at me keenly and said… “Are you writing a Dan Brown novel?”
And I laughed even more. And said no, my writing is MUCH better than his. Which led – amongst other things - to the conversation about the sale of his books and if he is a good writer or not…
Now, I think he is a fantastic writer – he has the world wrapped around his word processor.
I admit this with a blushing face as I know my prose is better than his but what he hit upon was an amazing plot and a public willing to believe all he wrote – I am talking about the Da Vinci Code here, by the way. A hugely successful book which, like JK Rowling’s books firstly started selling by word of mouth, then the media picked it up, the marketing machine kicked in and it all just steam rollered it into a book so talked about and controversial that it had the Vatican up in arms, families not talking to one another….and all of this hype spawned off-shoot books about the REAL Da Vinci Code, including programmes about church organisations, the Templars and Roslyn Chapel in Scotland!
Which brings me to the real crux of this blog – you can be a rubbish writer, but if you have a fantastic plot and you can manage to weave your story together to make it plausible so that you turn people’s heads then you are a successful writer. As that is what writers do – create something altogether real and plausible and make you wonder what if…
We discussed the Dan Brown phenomenon in our writing class last year and our tutor maintained that even though it wasn’t the most literary thriller in the world, it had all the ingredients that made it a best seller – fast paced plot, an attractive hero, a plausible heroine, conspiracies, scary baddies (what is more scary than a religious fanatic backed by an even scarier Vatican sanctioned order), yet more conspiracies…he admitted rightly that he read two pages of the book and had to throw it across the room as he couldn’t stomach the bad writing. We questioned him as to how it got past the editors if it was that bad and he circled us back to the plot, the thrill of the ride you get to go on with the characters and how, if you are clever enough at illusion, you could have a rollicking time writing your novel because you know so many people out there would be loving it, just because it is in places far-fetched! And face it, even if you aren’t a conspiracy theorist who doesn’t love a good cover up!?
It was a valuable lesson that gave us pause as we were quite happy to write it off as rubbish (more out of jealousy than anything else) but the core role is – plot.
This is a bit of blurb from the Writing section of the BBC website
In a nutshell, a great plot will be one which appears to develop inevitably, features credible events, and resolves itself in a way which appears to be a natural consequence of the chain of events you've inflicted upon your characters.
And that is the lesson for today.