Recently I’ve been considering ‘what makes a hit novel’? And here are my thoughts:
1) Characters we care about
A hit novel contains a handful of great characters that you grow to love and want to follow. And there are many examples we can all call to mind: Darcy, Harry Potter, James Bond, Hannibal etc. If we care about the characters, we’ll want to know what happens next to them. And if we don’t, we may well put the book back down.
2) Plenty of incident & twists
To keep us awake and stop us from skipping ahead or worse switching off. A hit novel contains plenty of action, regardless of the genre. Things happen, challenges are faced and our hero has to overcome stuff. Otherwise it can become ‘interesting’, but basically dull and uneventful. Spicing things up with events we can’t predict also helps a lot.
3) A quirk or three
People become bored with formula pretty quickly. Most hit novels contain at least a few grains of ‘uniqueness’. Whether it be: dark threats and scandal in Scandinavia; allegorical animals in a boat; an orphaned wunderkind wizard; dystopian gladiators on TV; or rich man, innocent girl and a heap of sexual experiments (or smut).
4) Ease of reading
You notice I did not highlight ‘elegant writing’. That may win prizes and be a worthy aim in itself, but readers want to be able to read easily. They want to be able to enjoy the story without reaching for a dictionary.
5) A place you want to visit in your head
In my view novels are escapism. Along the way we learn things about the world of our characters and ultimately ourselves. A hit book asks questions of the reader in a subtle way, such as ‘what would you do in this situation?’ It also takes the reader to a place they want to learn about and experience from the safety of their reading location.
Of course none of the above would matter unless readers were talking about a book and recommending it to their friends. As with the Fifty Shades series, that recommendation may be more a viral ‘you need to read it to believe it’ kind of thing or a ‘but is it actually any good?’ In my view that particular series is written in an okay manner and is highly effective as titillation and for provoking interest. And clearly it is a massive hit.
That’s all for now