How to Write a Bestseller

Why is it that 1970s classics like Tapping the Source and Dog Soldiers have such balls-out nutso third acts? I wonder if there’s a How to Write Fiction book, long out of print, that featured advice like, “Stuck halfway through your plot? Introduce a suitcase full of cocaine! …And have someone steal it!” This got me thinking, what other nuggets of wisdom are locked away in those On Writing guides currently collecting dust in the dollar bins of used bookstores?

Seriously, it won the National Book Award.

Seriously, it won the National Book Award.

1960s: “Your protagonist should often regret his thwarted high school athletic/writing/artistic dreams. Expressing this via hostility toward his WASP wife is a great way to employ Freytag’s rising action.”

1970s: “Good novels expresses both ‘high’ and ‘low’ modes. Your novel will feel incomplete to the reader if it doesn’t feature an autoreflexive narrator, ersatz colloquialisms, and extreme sex fetishes. Novelists that achieve this balance can ensure academic posts and literary rewards.”

1980s: “What can you do with a novel that you can’t do with a collection of interconnected short stories? The answer: nothing. Unless your novel is chiefly about American identity, then it’s fine. And by American identity, of course we mean privileged white young men on drugs.”

1990s: “Teenage wizards.”

2000s: “Teenage wizards vampires.”

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