Patterson novels are hard to put down because, not only are they exciting, they're extremely fast paced and filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Today I thought I'd share a few tips from Patterson on writing commercial fiction found in this Publisher's Weekly article by one of his co-authors, Mark Sullivan.
According to Patterson, "We are in the business of entertainment, not edification or enlightenment...We are interested in giving the reader an intelligent thrill ride populated by outsized people we feel for.” Characters, especially heroes and villains, Sullivan explains, have to be thought about carefully. They have to be human, above all, and subjected to terrible ordeals that take them to the brink of their capacities and beyond.
“To do that," Patterson says, "our villains must be worthy opponents...The reader has to believe that the bad guy is fascinating enough, clever enough, and bad enough to defeat our hero.” Research, Sullivan learned, is the basis of great villains. It's also the basis of hero, plot, and believability. Sullivan says that Patterson is extremely well read, and his statements about writing are often peppered with references to specific authors, books, or films. In one villainous discussion, Sullivan said Patterson urged me to read the poetry of Louise Glück to get a better feel for a lacerating voice. In another they discussed the novel Perfume.
With Patterson, exposition was severely limited. Sullivan says, "The old adage—show, not tell—was critical, and the element of surprise was paramount. Each chapter in Private Berlin had to deepen a character, advance the plot, or turn the tale on its head. You began every scene with the end in mind; and the end had better blow the reader’s mind or it would be revised or tossed."
Patterson told Sullivan at their first meeting, “What most people who attempt commercial fiction don’t understand is that you have to write the way people talk...You can’t make the prose rigid or dense and expect the normal, busy reader to turn the page, much less stick with you to the very end.” Sullivan says that Patterson advised him to imagine an entertaining bon vivant in a bar telling our stories in a language that would appeal to every Tom, Dick, and Mary in the place. Humor helped. So did a flare for the dramatic. So did a pared-down style. Sullivan says that Patterson has been criticized for the "short chapters and the ultra-lean prose, but don’t think for a minute that it is without purpose beyond a quick read for a harried reader."
Patterson said to Sullivan, “Most writers will tell you five to 10 things about a character or a setting or an action...Fine for literature. But our approach is to pick the one or two or three that really count and discard the rest. It not only creates pace but it leaves images in the reader’s mind that are concrete and unequivocal.”
In conclusion, Sullivan says, "The sum of this advice was to sacrifice all for the story and the characters. Outlines were trusted navigational charts, yet we were free to sail in other directions as the novel evolved. But if you were going to change something, it had to be a terrific change."
"We’re after terrific, fascinating, and smart,” Patterson said. “We’re after a story that the reader can’t put down and can’t forget when they’re done, the kind people talk about to their friends.”
Don't we all wish we could write something that our readers can't put down? Do you like thrillers? If so, who's your favorite thriller writer?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!
Originally posted 6/24/13
Originally posted 6/24/13