Remember, when you were a child, how much you wanted to become a published writer when you grew up?
The image of being a successful writer has so much glory and aspiration that everyone dreams of it at some point. Besides, when you don’t dive too deep into it, it seems like writing a bestseller isn’t a very difficult job.
Yet, there’s more to it than it seems. Professional writers have to deal with things like writer’s block, countless rewrites and even something as trivial as a lack of inspiration. As a result, not every writer ends up writing a bestseller.
So, what constitutes a bestseller?
This question is always a subject of heated debates. Thus, there are many answers to it, each of which is true to some extent. Some textbooks on the theory of literature state that the main components of every story are characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. However, with a bestseller, you’ll need to take these components a step further:
- Compelling and complex characters. Remember A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin? The way he treats main and secondary characters as equal contributors to the storyline has not only turned the books into bestsellers but also made them into an award-winning TV show. Every character, even a secondary one, must be well-written. Moreover, each character bears something in them, which every one of us can relate to. They rarely possess unearthly and embellished qualities, but rather are also flawed and make mistakes.
- A vivid setting. When I think about setting, my mind immediately goes to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Remember, how much time J.R.R. Tolkien spent describing various settings as the characters travel through Middle Earth? The setting contributes a lot to the story, not to mention that little details can tell even more than characters do in their dialogue.
- A puzzle of a plot. The events in your story, should gradually unveil and be related to each other. They are like pieces of a puzzle that you should collect to get the final picture. A good story should also have consistency to it, meaning that there should be a clear beginning, a climax, and an end. However, you can play with different parts of the plot, creating foreshadowing and employing different techniques to bring a twist to your story.
- Consistent conflict. Conflicts can be scattered around the story. It can be an inner conflict (like the one Frodo has when he hesitates to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom) or an external conflict (between the race of men and elves, and the orcs of Mordor). However, placing a conflict into a story and not connecting it to other conflicts can make the whole narrative messy. It’s all about consistency.
- A creative resolution. Eventually, a story should come to an end. However, the way it ends should always be in line with the events that lead to it. Ideally, a bestseller should not just have a logical ending, but also one that evokes certain emotions.
For instance, the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy ends with the main characters ready to sacrifice their lives for each other, which shocks the readers. You can also leave it for the reader to decide how the story ends by creating an open ending (like in Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette”). This engages the reader’s imagination, as they paint a picture of a farewell with the characters and the story.
While working on each of these aspects, a writer can easily get stuck. Luckily, you can also pump up your writing with writing prompts. Here’s how.
1) Step-by-Step character description
When working on creating characters for your book, prompts can serve as step-by-step guides.
You can use a simple prompt, answering questions about their age, occupation, position in society, marital status, prominent character traits, etc. However, it’s even more effective to place a character in a situation and develop their character traits through a story. Karen Miller, the chief blog editor at Flatfy, shares a few such writing prompts, which they use to train their writers:
- Write about a character who gets in a jungle to research untouched societies. Describe how the character would behave in life-threatening situations and how they will find a solution.
- Describe a character that suddenly obtains magic powers. Talk about the emotions they experience and the decisions they make on using these powers.
- Describe a character that was a part of an ancient society. Then, this character suddenly gets to the future and finds themselves in our modern society. How will they acclimate to the changes?
See how each of these prompts is aimed at creating a complex character? You can create your own prompts for character development that would fit your story.
2) Short stories for setting
Ray Bradbury once recommended beginning and intermediate writers to write as many short stories a week as possible. Short stories are a kind of writing prompts that help you train your writing.
However, you can use short stories to work on a particular aspect of your book, for instance, setting. If you want to create a vast description of a particular setting in your book, start with a series of short stories. Tell how this setting was brought to existence, who lived there and how its inhabitants impacted the way this setting looks in your book. The more detailed your short stories are, the better.
3) Journaling prompts for plot
You’d be surprised to find out that many bestselling writers have a habit of carrying around a journal for sudden creative ideas. Not only can they keep track of curious things that happen to them on a daily basis, but it also allows them to observe the life around them, which may serve as the foundation for the plot of their future books.
Journaling, i.e. keeping track of life around you and how it impacts your life, is very helpful for developing a plot of a successful story. This is a good way to practice taking a deeper look into issues you want to touch upon in your story. If you’re wondering what conflicts to include in your story, the analysis of events you write in a journal (observations, life events, and conflicts you experienced yourself) might give you useful hints on what conflicts can shape your story.
After all, life events helped many authors find inspiration for their stories. For instance, The Lord of the Rings was largely influenced by Tolkien’s experiences during World War I, and his son’s life during World War II. Great stories are always around us, you just have to take a deeper look.
4) Deep dive into self in search for conflict
Journaling and using writing prompts in a form of questions can also help you come up with conflicts that the characters of your story will have to deal with. A deep-dive into your own personal life may serve as inspiration for your future bestseller.
Ask yourself the following questions.
- At what age did you experience a certain conflicting event?
- What were your initial emotions when you had to deal with this conflict?
- What is your opinion of this event now?
- Looking from this perspective, how has this conflict influenced your life?
- What are the lessons you’ve learned from this conflict?
Answering these questions and then transferring this conflict to your characters can be very helpful for character development as well as for the dynamics of your story.
5) Mind map to find resolution
If you’re writing your book for a long time, you might find it hard to come up with a proper ending for your story. This is common. George R.R. Martin, for instance, in his latest interview to Vox, admits that he has an idea of how his books would end, but he doesn’t know exactly and he wants to see how the story unfolds.
Although you might have an ending ready once you start writing a story, it may change in the process. If you are hesitant about which ending is the most suitable, you can use mind maps as writing prompts. A mind map will help derive several possible options and, as you work your way through each ending, you’ll be able to see, which one suits your story the best.
Although all these tips may help you find inspiration to write a great story, the aspects that define a bestseller will also depend on the time, the culture and society.
Nevertheless, practice plays a very important role, too. Writing is a skill that requires constant training. The more you exercise, the better you become. Ray Bradbury wrote around 50 short stories a week to finally get his skill to the level that allowed him to create timeless bestsellers.
Using writing prompts can serve as a great exercise to work on creating an engaging story. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you to use writing prompts that will train you to become a bestselling writer.
Kate Khom is a passionate writer who likes sharing her thoughts and experiences with the readers. Currently, she works as a managing editor, you can check out her website here. She likes everything related to traveling and new countries.