The 7 Essential Elements of a Bestselling Novel


Do I know how to grab your attention or what? Anyway, for a quick-post-Friday I wanted to share an article I stumbled on while reading the Writers Digest website, called (use your powers of deduction here), ‘The 7 Essential Elements of a Bestselling Novel’. The post was written by Adrienne Crezo, managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. I think it’s clear to all of us that there are far more than 7 essential elements of a bestselling novel, and that bestselling novels themselves defy generalization (unless you use the broadest terms imaginable like ‘tense’, ‘exciting’, or ‘unique’). But that absolutely doesn’t mean that the points aren’t good, helpful pieces of information.

The essential elements are:

1.  Readability

2.  Strangeness

3.  Controversy

In addition to what is said in the article, I think that controversy is especially important because nothing gets people thinking or talking about your story more than controversy – the hard issues.  Tackle a big problem, something that really matters, something about which people have differing opinions and strong feelings.  This is how you get people to think about your book even when they aren’t reading it and long after they’ve put it down for good.  Don’t be afraid to let your characters choose a side, and don’t be afraid to struggle with the difficulty of choosing what is or isn’t right in a situation, because if you present your problem strongly and grapple with it, chances are you’ll get your readers to grapple with it too.

4.  Big Actions with Big Consequences

5.  Nuanced Uniqueness

6.  Extreme Situations

This is one of my favorites.  “There’s no real limit except your own creativity; get your characters as deeply in trouble as you can, and then figure out what they would do when “it’s make or break, do or die.”

7.  Reasons to Care

Arguably the most important of the 7.

For more on each point, visit the article:

Have a good weekend.


7 comments on “The 7 Essential Elements of a Bestselling Novel”

  1. I think #2 (Strangeness) is an interesting point.

    I was talking to a friend about the whole formulaic writing process. I just wrote a short story, and it starts with the guy shooting himself, then it goes through his memories, reality, and delusions. I posted it on my blog, Fiction Press, and another writing site. I got some really good feedback and constructive criticism. But one person really didn’t like the non-linear aspect. I mean, I get what he means, but at the same time, I don’t want to make it linear. It’s supposed to be a bit messy and confusing because he’s in the process of dying. Obviously I don’t want to make it so confusing the reader stops, but most people understood it. Most of my stories are written linear, but I wanted to do something different. My best friend is a pretty good writer, so she’s going to read it over for me to see if the non-linear aspect works. But she admitted to me that she didn’t think anyone would want to publish it in a magazine because it was different. That’s okay with me. I wrote it for myself first and foremost. A bit ago I was writing a semi-comatose character, and I wanted to show his thoughts which were basically a delusion of reality. It’s hard to know how something like that is going to come out. Like it feels right to me, but I don’t know it’s effect. And I’m so biased because it’s my story.

    When I think of other published authors that do some non-conventional things there is often debate on it. Like Faulkner’s, The Sound and the Fury. I love Faulkner, and it’s considered a literary masterpiece. But it’s harder than hell to read. It’s told from several different POVs separated by different chapters. And within each POV it shifts from past to present without giving you any clues. And it’s mostly written in stream of consciousness. I gave up on it. I’m all for breaking out of the mold, but I couldn’t understand what he meant even with Cliff Notes XD Faulkner’s, As I Lay Dying, is also pretty strange. Not sure if you have read it, but it’s about a mother dying, their obligation to fill her dying wish, and coping with death. It’s told from the POV of 15 different characters, all separated by a different chapter. I’ll quote one of the chapters, “My mother is a fish.” That’s it. At first glance it’s seriously WTF XD But then when you read the book in context you can understand what Faulkner was trying to achieve. So being unconventional can make it hard for people to understand and appreciate the work. Gardner and Atwood inserted a book within a book. One of the things that makes Gardner’s approach so different is that the book within a book is missing pages. Not sure why he did that XD I’ve seen mixed opinions about it But I guess that’s the way anything is in life. If you do something different, some people are going to love it, and some people are going to dislike it.

  2. Reasons to care… that’s definitely a big one. Why should I dedicate one second to X amount of pages? What will it do for me? We all know controversy gets people talking. Good list

  3. Thank you do much for sharing this! The part about writing controversial stories to keep readers thinking about your book inspired me to get started write a memoir about a very complicated situation I found myself in many years ago!

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