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The Top 10 “Common Elements” in Best-Seller Novels (via J.T. Velikovsky)

Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling, James Patterson and Dan Brown…

What `Top 10 Things’ do their best-selling fiction novels all have in common?

1) ALL ARE IN THE SAME GENRE… 

All are in the Suspense-Mystery-Thriller Genre.

  • Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are investigating/pursued by killers
  • Potter has to find out who killed his parents; people are trying to kill him
  • Cross always has to solve a murder;
  • Langdon has to work out who is killing these people, and why;
  • Bella has to urgently find out whether she should:
    • a) abstain from having sex with a vampire, or
    • b) abstain from having sex with a werewolf – (before someone gets themself killed.)

2) ALL ARE A `TEXTBOOK’ CAMPBELL / VOGLER’S HERO’S JOURNEY

All of them have the “Hero’s Journey” story structure, and have all of the classic Joseph Campbell / Christopher Vogler`monomyth’ Hero’s Journey myth Character Archetypes. (Take a look at The Feature ScreenWriter’s Workbook (free) if you aren’t familiar with The Hero’s Journey…)

3) ALL HAVE SIMPLE/`INVISIBLE’ PROSE STYLE 

- All of them are, in general written in simple, `unmemorable’/non-literary prose. i.e. So that, a general audience (possibly even, a `young adult’ reader) could likely read these books, without necessarily `going to the dictionary’ every second page. So…

- In other words:  Write like Hemingway. (Small words. And often: short sentences.)

Next…

4) THE SAME THEME 

All have the same Theme: i.e. – Revenge

  • Salander’s journey is “all about Revenge” (she even literally says this, at the end of the 3rd book), as indeed is Blomkvist’s journey (given the events at the start of the 1st book)
  • Potter wants to/(has to) avenge his parents’ death by Voldemort;
  • Cross is generally trying to avenge the deaths of murder victims;
  • Langdon is trying to take revenge on the Church for its crimes;
  • and the 2 individual males – and their `tribes’ – tussling over Bella in `Twilight’ are constantly Revenging on each other, at every alternate step, in her evolving relationship with them – though sometimes Bella talks them out of it.)

5) FILMIC-NESS. 
(Or: ALL HAVE THE SAME “SCENE-ERY” TO THEM) 

All these novels are constructed dramatically, with `Scenes’ – much like a feature film. i.e. – The Pacing and the Timing, the Scene Structure and Scene Length (and typically, the Dialog) – is all constructed much like a film screenplay. (And, notably – they have all therefore been Optioned, Adapted, and Filmed and – Marketed back to the mainstream, and – fans of the books. Which is, `the mainstream’ at any rate.)

Importantly – by contrast – such heartbreaking works of staggering literary genius as `The Catcher In The Rye’ or say `On The Road’ and `The Great Gatsby’ tend to be filled with internal narration, and slow (or even haphazard/”meandering”) plots, and – thus don’t necessarily make for popular movies (or even `films’, which are more `arty/literary’ than movies.)… They just make for: awesome literary novels.

(Note also that – those 3 (latter) novels aren’t mystery-thrillers, as such; certainly not in the Sherlock Holmes/Agatha Christie-style suspense-mystery-thriller style/tone/genre)

6) CLIFFHANGERS, AT THE END OF EVERY CHAPTER. 

Self-explanatory; this is also partly why they are viewed as “page-turners” (Or perhaps: “Chapter-turners”?). The Millennium trilogy books are especially good at this (leaving a suspenseful question `hanging’ at the end of almost every chapter).

This also feeds back into Point #5, i.e. – Movies in general kind of have to do this – or else, often there can be a lack of suspense – which, the Audience may find boring.

7) All feature `VILLAIN TRIUMPHANT’ stories in their first book of the franchise. 

Also, take a look at the StoryAlity Blog (http://storyality.wordpress.com/) if you aren’t familiar with this story trope…

8) ALL ARE AMATEUR-DETECTIVE / PSEUDO-`SHERLOCK HOLMES’ STORIES… 

Again, the Millennium trilogy is the most obvious example of this. This also ties back into point #1, that all of them are in the Suspense-Mystery-Thriller Genre. The hero is always a `Detective’ of some sort (sometimes an `amateur’ detective, e.g. Potter, or Bella) and – has to `solve the mystery / catch the killer’ – or else they (or someone close to them) will die. In other words: high stakes, life & death suspense.

9) ALL OF THEM FEATURE A “NON-EVERYMAN”, `ELITE’ HERO… 

  • Harry Potter is `special’ – born of `special’ parents, with an amazing talent. (See also: Luke Skywalker in `Star Wars‘.)
  • Cross is a super-sleuth, as well as being a strong, handsome, intelligent black man.
  • Langdon is a genius symbologist/academic / “cryptographer / code-cracker” type.
  • Bella is especially attractive – to both Vampires, and Werewolves.
  • Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomkvist are phenomenally-gifted experts at what they do. Lisbeth is one of the 30 best computer hackers in the world – and a mathematics genius (see Fermat’s Last Theorem, in the novels..). Blomkvist is also an exceptionally-bright, gifted and talented investigative journalist.

i.e. – These protagonists are NOT ordinary/Everyman/Everywoman people. – They are all `super-special’ or outstanding in some, or even many ways. So – make your novel’s protagonist super-special; an expert, or highly-talented (or genetically-gifted… which, is the same thing as highly-talented anyway)…

And now – the last, most politically-contentious point:

10) 80% OF PROTAGONISTS IN THESE BEST-SELLING HEROES ARE PRIVILEGED WHITE MALES. 

Bella isn’t a male, Alex Cross isn’t white – but all the other protagonists are white males.

* * *

That’s my own view, on Common Story Elements in those best-selling novel series. Another interesting book on this topic is:

Hit Lit: Cracking The Code of the 20th Century’s Biggest Bestsellers

* * *

Originally published at http://on-writering.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/top-10-common-elements-in-all-best.html

by JT Velikovsky 
High ROI Film/Story/Screenplay Guru
http://storyality.wordpress.com/

* * *

Great Book-Related Art: http://bibliolectors.tumblr.com/

One comment on “The Top 10 “Common Elements” in Best-Seller Novels (via J.T. Velikovsky)

  1. JT Velikovsky
    June 29, 2014

    Heya Greg, thanks for re-posting this!

    I’m also currently working on (ie developing, slapping about, kneading and folding) a Theory that, we humans just love problem-solving, and that’s one reason why, these `amateur detective stories’ (and also Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie stories, etc) are so popular…

    – It ties very much into this (which in my own humble view, is an utterly awesome article, I think DiCarlo is a true creative genius, for having these insights…):

    “How Problem Solving and Neurotransmission in the Upper Paleolithic led to The Emergence and Maintenance of Memetic Equilibrium in Contemporary World Religions” (diCarlo 2010)

    http://www.politicsandculture.org/2010/04/27/how-problem-solving-and-neurotransmission-in-the-upper-paleolithic-led-to-the-emergence-and-maintenance-of-memetic-equilibrium-in-contemporary-world-religions/

    Cheers!
    -JT

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2014 by in Books, Business, Science, Writing Strategy and tagged , , , , .
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