Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Advice from James Patterson

There is an extremely interesting article about James Patterson in the current New York Times magazine - you can find it here or go to Funnily enough, it mentions Jacqueline Susann too ...

I have never read a James Patterson book but I am, obviously, aware of him. This article is fascinating from a writing and publishing point of view - it will take you a while, but it's worth it. I especially liked this piece of advice that he regularly dispenses:

'If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for a few friends, get a blog. But if you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs? A lot of people in this country go through their days numb. They need to be entertained. They need to feel something.'

It's excellent advice. As I'm fond of telling writers who sometimes go too far down the rabbit hole: don't forget that your job is storytelling, not book writing. Fundamentally writers have to tell stories. If there's beautiful writing attached, fantastic, but the story has to come first. Humans are primal creatures - stories are what call us; stories are what move us. It's in our lizard brain. Our first storytellers were oral and they had to captivate audiences or they didn't have a job. It's no different when you're writing a book. It's your job to cajole, seduce, entice and enthrall your reader. It's your decision as to how you do that.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Nice reminder....Tell your story for your readers. :)

Kylie said...

I love this advice- it's perfect. It's excatly what all those who rubbish Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer and their ilk miss- sure, they may not be the prettiest wordsmiths going around, but they weave a story that for whatever reason hooks people in, keeps them turning the pages, makes them forget anything other than desperately needing to know what happens next.
I'm not a big fan of Brown, and I've never read Meyer, but boy do I admire them for capturing so many imaginations. As a novelist myself, that's my number one aim. I'd love to write beautifully too, but, to me at least, the story is the heart of it.

Kylie said...

PS. Welcome back Sydney! :)

TL said...

Marketing matters. A lot. However, firstly, there needs to be a consistent, high-quality product (or service). So, whatever the detractors might say, the big sellers must have something.

What people don't appreciate, is how difficult it is to market something successfully. A stinker of a marketing campaign is worse than none at all...which is why I think writers need to be circumspect about what they write ANYWHERE, but particularly on blogs or websites which are cached somewhere forever.

IMHO, a marketing strategy, to be really smashing, needs to have the same kind of pull / essence / x-factor appeal as the novel or series it's setting out to promote. Even in the health-related service industry in which I've owned 2 businesses, same goes. What's your point of difference? Get that wrong, and the whole enterprise falls flat.

Satan said...

Awesome advice - a nice change from the standard-issue "this is how to write the heck out of a query." And totally overlooked. The writing -- to a point -- needs only to stay out of the way. Critique partners should start with: Is this a story I want to read/hear?

James Killick said...

Refreshing advice - I often wonder why we can't have both - a great story AND wonderful prose. The books that have both hopefully will be rightly judged as classics. I think story is frequently frowned upon as the least important aspect of a novel, particularly amongst the literati. Patterson is basically saying what Aristotle has said all along - that plot is the most important aspect of drama.

P.M.Newton said...

A year working the loans desk in a public library will tell you a lot about what people like to read.

You see who gets checked out over and over again, whose backlists get chased up by readers who, having discovered a great storyteller, then want to read everything they've ever written.

You notice the titles and authors who you constantly seem to be re-shelving, only to be checking them out again a few hours later.

My experience is - people like to be told stories. They'll read badly written books that tell good stories, but "beautifully written" books with no plot, unbelievable characters and writers who seem more interested in showing off than considering their reader .... well, there's always the chance a book club will set them as homework.