how to write a best seller; a recap

How to Write a Bestseller

How to Write a Bestseller


I happily attended book editor Brian Henry’s How to Write a Best Seller workshop this past weekend in Oakville. It was my first time attending one of Brian’s classes, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an especially stimulating workshop to attend, as the special guest was best selling author, Kelley Armstrong.

Armstrong was a perfect guest speaker; as a novelist with nineteen published books, including two #1 New York Times best sellers, two teen fantasy series’ and a novel, Bitten, recently optioned for a TV series on Syfy and Space, Armstrong is an experienced player in the game of literature. Surprisingly though, as she spoke, it was evident that she’s humble and shy, not to mention brilliant and hard working. I don’t know how the mother of two has time to write two books a year, but I do know one thing: she’s inspiring.

Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong Official Site

So, in true Kelly Furgal Toye fashion, I took copious notes throughout the five hour time span. But for blogging purposes, I thought I would condense some of the useful tips Armstrong shared with the group.

One of the areas Armstrong put a lot of emphasis on was pacing. Pacing can be tricky, but for those of you who are like me and already have a completed first draft of a novel, the good news is that tempo techniques can be applied at any time.

Here are some of the pacing methods Armstrong encouraged us to explore:

Pacing:  How to get that ultimate compliment:  “I couldn’t put it down.”

  • Chapter Breaks: (It’s a well-known fact that people like to stop reading at chapter breaks). Armstrong suggested inserting a little hook at the end of several chapters. This is probably one of the biggest takeaways I learned from the workshop. Yes, it sounds simple, but the way Armstrong used examples from her book inspired me to rework some of my own chapter endings, which typically are packaged tightly with a bow. She definitely gave me something to think about.
  • Go in late to get out early: Armstrong suggested starting chapters when actual action and conflict starts. She suggests thinking: What is the last possible moment I can start this chapter?
  • Taking care of business: Armstrong described this as the act of getting from Point A to Point B. Armstrong reminded us that we don’t need to describe everyday minutiae; characters going through the motions. The same technique should be applied to dialogue.
  • Just do it: Armstrong explained that a big action scene usually has three parts: 1) Preparation. 2) The character action. 3) Reaction/Summary.
    • Armstrong said: If you apply all three of these elements in detail, you will bore your readers. She suggested usually sticking with the action and then providing a brief summary for the ‘reaction’.

      Good pacing creates a real page turner!

      Good pacing creates a real page turner!

  • Don’t write the parts people skip: Sounds easy enough, right? Armstrong asked the group what sections of a novel we usually skip and the same answers were heard over and over again: descriptions, back story and technical writing.
    • One way to avoid readers skipping the page is to break up the descriptions, for example, with action. There’s that word again. (Can you tell she writes mystery and fantasy?!) Compile dialogue and interaction, and intersperse description. The reader won’t be able to skip descriptive text if it’s only two lines long.
      • Another reminder: Every scene has to accomplish something different. You only need to write what the readers NEED to know to get through a scene.
  • Edit: Enough said. We all know this. I’ve even blogged about it before: kill your darlings, as Stephen Kings says.
  • Write and write, and get it out of your head: Then go back and edit and cut, and cut some more.
    • No forcing. Armstrong admitted she’s guilty of this, until her editor gets a hold of her first draft. No matter how cool a scene is, you must brainstorm a new one if it seems forced. If your characters wouldn’t do it, don’t force them to.
  • In your opening chapters, have as few characters as possible: Armstrong reminded us the importance of an intriguing prologue and first chapter. Kelley often cuts her cast.
    • Another note on characters: If two characters share the same purpose, cut them. For example, what you shouldn’t see in a love triangle is two guys who share the same purpose. What the main character loves about them has to be different.

And that’s it for the pacing summary. Speaking of pacing, I’m going to refrain from boring you with excess text. I mean, I don’t want to keep writing and writing and then have to go back and kill my darlings, do I? Plus, everything I learned on Saturday was pretty valuable, therefore there’s no sense in clumping it altogether in one blog post. So, I think that’s enough for today.

I hope you found Kelley Armstrong’s tips, along with my editing (yes, that’s right, KFT trademarked interjections) useful. If not (and, if so), check back later this week for Part 2 of How to Write Best Seller: A Recap.

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