S. J. Kelley

Characteristics of a Best Selling Novel (Part 3)

I read quite a bit. As I start down the path of writing my first novel, I want to refer to a simple list of things I’ve learned while reading bestsellers. In part 1, I discussed series I consider to be “excellent” (Harry Potter; Hunger Games; Divergent); in part 2, I discussed series which were popular, but were lacking in some aspect or another (Twilight; Mortal Instruments; Percy Jackson; Maze Runner). So, without further ado, I bring you, “S.J. Kelley’s KISS-list to writing a YA bestseller” (in no particular order):

  • Build rich, descriptive, creative storyworlds you can lose yourself in
  • Have characters actively extract information from the storyworld (including politics, culture, etc), rather than passively receive explanations
  • Incorporate symbolism which links to the theme / story culture / goals
  • Divide main and supporting characters into groups which echo the larger storyworld society / culture / politics
  • Outline a strong plot:
    • Series-arcs as well as story-arcs
    • Momentum; urgency; chapters which leave you wondering what will happen next
    • A B-line which is realistic, believable, and substantial
  • Develop complex characters
    • Flaws
    • Minority groups
    • Growth and conflict between who they were and who they are becoming

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