Monday, December 13, 2010

Writing the Blockbuster Novel

About 20 years ago, I began to work more seriously toward a lifelong goal: to write and publish a novel. I invested in subscriptions to "Writer's Digest" and bought quite a few books on how to write novels, how to publish them, etc. I read many of them in those first few months, enough to get a good grasp on the ins and outs, but always realizing that this would be a continuous learning experience. Now, 20 years later, I've read the last book that I bought from those days. Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman is not for the absolute beginner but rather for those that have a fairly good grasp of how to write and how to publish.

Al Zuckerman is a very successful literary agent who has worked with some of the biggest name authors extant. He uses five major works as examples in this book: The Godfather (Mario Puzo), The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough), Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell), The Man from St Petersburg (Ken Follett), and Garden of Lies (Eileen Goudge). I have read three of these books and so found the material easily relevant. Much of the book is written as a sort of textbook and I do recommend reading these five books first in order to get the most out of this one, especially the Ken Follett book. Of special interest to me was seeing how The Man From St Petersburg changed from first draft to subsequent drafts. I certainly know how writing a novel can be lots and lots of downright hard work but this really brings that point home.

Obviously, this book is not for every writer. If you are interested in writing short stories, or aspire to the smaller, more intimate books, children's books, etc, then this one can still be read just for expanding your knowledge and insight of publishing, marketing, or even some of the basic chores of writing like outlining or re-writing. However, if you are looking for the big commercial success, then this one is ideal. Zuckerman lays out his value criteria: "high stakes; larger-than-life characters; a strong dramatic question; a high concept; a farfetched plot premise; intense emotional involvement between several point-of-view characters; and an exotic and interesting setting."

Overall, I thought the book was well done even though I no longer see myself as writing hugely commercially successful fiction. In fact, this book helped me to focus my own writing efforts; just what I had hoped for when I first opened it up.

1 comment:

  1. Still one of my life-long ambitions too! One day I will actually finish writing a novel... but not today. (I've started several, but they've never been completed...)


Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire