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Learn From The Best: Dan Brown’s Writing Tips For Page Turners

Dan brown's writing tipsReading Time: 5 minutes

 

Love him or hate him, Dan Brown knows how to write a bestseller.

dan brown's writing tips

His books have been translated into over 50 languages.

The Da Vinci Code reached the New York Times Bestseller list in its first week of release with an estimated $250 million worth of sales.

It’s safe to say that Dan Brown knows what he is doing.

So, what can we learn from him?  Here are some of Dan Brown’s writing tips.

 

#1 Is planning overrated?

In the first of my Learn From The Best blog series, I wrote about how J.K. Rowling planned the plots for the entire Harry Potter series before writing the first one.  Dan Brown didn’t.

He says that after completing Angels & Demons, he “never imagined it would turn into a series.”  And yet so many of his books to date follow the adventures of his fictitious character  Robert Langdon.

So where does this leave us?  To plan or not to plan?

Planning each novel is certainly useful.  It can avoid writer’s block and importantly, keep your novel on track.

When it comes to a series, it seems that your planning depends on whether or not you have decided that it will be one.

For example, J.K. Rowling decided from the outset that Harry Potter would form a series.  So, she outlined her plots.  But after writing her first book, she realised she’d given away the plots for all of them.  So she re-wrote.

Dan Brown, on the other hand, create a character and world that he fell in love with.  After writing Deception Point he craved “the semiotic world of Robert Langdon” which led to The Da Vinci Code.

The moral of the story?  If you know you want to write a series then plan it.  That’s the ideal approach.  If not, then let the strength of the characters and worlds you create, guide you.

 

# 2 Research adds realism

Dan Brown believes that “research is the most overlooked facet of writing a successful page-turner.”

I like this.

Regardless of your genre, carrying out detailed research adds depth to your writing.

Imagine you were reading a scene about someone on death row.  If you have no knowledge of what being on death row is like or no insight into real people’s experiences, then how will you transport your reader to your world?

Brown raises another good point:

“…the research process often unveils dramatic options that take your plot in directions that you (and your readers) did not expect.”

So, in addition to making your novel credible, research can also help you with plot twists – a crucial ingredient of a page-turner.

Here is what Dan Brown says about his research process:

  • Start with some general  ideas and themes (Brown usually starts with a location and big idea)
  • Carry out some in-depth research of the chosen topics
  • Outline and start writing the novel
  • As the novel tightens, continue carrying out research

If you are wondering where to start with research for your novel, Notion Press shares some ideas:

page turner writing tips

 

# 3  Write your first and last chapter simultaneously

This is an interesting take on novel planning.

To avoid plots getting blurred, Dan Brown advises starting the writing process with the first and last chapters.  He says that this “serves as pillars on which to construct the middle of the book.”

Makes sense. If you know where points A and B are, you can find a route from A to B.

Right?

In my opinion,  the success of this tip depends on the type of writer you are.

I, for example, am a planner.  I like to storyboard my entire novel before writing it.  So essentially I know my A and B points beforehand even if I haven’t fleshed them out.

If planning isn’t your bag then perhaps Dan Brown’s writing tip is worth a shot.  If you try this, I’d love to hear about how it worked for you.

 

#4 Reading helps your writing

It’s obvious really.  But always worth reminding ourselves of it.

When I find an author I love, I tend to read a few of their books in a row.  This perhaps isn’t the best strategy if you are reading to develop your writing.  If you are anything like me, I find myself writing like that author.

It’s important to develop your own voice.  To do this, Brown actually advises to “not read other novels while writing your own novel.”  He acknowledges that other novelists would disagree.  But he justifies his opinion by saying that “the less you read (while actively writing), the more eagerly your mind will strive to create.”

Having said that, he does agree with the commonly dished out tip that “reading great novels is crucial to the development of any novelist, and there is no substitute for reading voraciously.”  Brown particularly likes to read a lot of non-fiction (it forms part of his research).

 

#5 Write what you want to know

Usually, aspiring writers are advised to write about what they know.  But Brown raises a good point – if you write about what you know, you make it harder to stay intellectually interested during the writing process.

He talks more about this here:

 

#6 The page turning formula

I’ve Googled it and I can’t find it.  Brown isn’t giving this golden nugget away.

That’s fine.

Having read all of his books, here is what I have gleaned:

  • Plots span over a short period of time e.g. 24 hours.  This keeps it pacy and full of suspense.
  • His chapters are short and typically end on cliffhangers.
  • As he gets your heart racing, Brown makes you wait for the payoff.  He drops in some facts and creates a gap between you wanting to know what happens next, and actually finding out.
  • The ‘goodies’ are generally likeable.  The characters who you feel suspicious of are usually not the main ‘baddie’.  This keeps you guessing – his books offer various prime suspects.
  • His male and female partners have a hint of romance but this is never actually realised.  It keeps us wondering whether anything will develop between them.
  • Brown’s intense descriptions and factual content keep you interested in whether certain conspiracy theories or secret organisations are real.  This bond between fiction and reality is a clever way to keep readers interested.

 

Have you got anything to add?

I’ve tried my best but I am sure I haven’t covered everything.  If you have some tips to add, or can share your own experiences, please comment below!

See more in the Learn From The Best blog series:

How E.L. James Made Millions From Her Midlife Crisis

J. K. Rowling’s Top 10 Writing Tips

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Learn From The Best: J. K. Rowling’s Top 10 Writing Tips

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Who is better to advise us on the top tips for writing a book than J. K. Rowling?

J.K. Rowling has a story to tell.  No, I’m not talking about Harry Potter et. al.  I’m talking about her – J.K. Rowling.

She epitomises a modern-day version of the classic rags to riches story.  Her philanthropic efforts and ability to slay Trump on Twitter means we just have to love her.

This talented writer is known for being private.  Her interviews are rare.  But on those rare occasions, she sprinkles fairy dust on anyone struggling to feel motivated to write.

Here are her top 10 writing tips for writing a book.  Not straight from her mouth, the ones I like the best from interviews and articles I have read about her.

#1  Fail to plan, plan to fail

One most commonly preached top writing tips is to plan well. Some people like storyboarding, others don’t.  But one thing is true of all writers – they are rarely successful at writing a good story in one sitting.

‘Harry Potter’ was born in 1990,  Manchester, on a delayed train journey to London.  Rowling proceeded to spend the next five years outlining the plots for the other stories in the series before even writing her first novel.

#2  “Kill all  the adverbs!”

Ok, so this is technically a Mark Twain tip which has been famously backed by Hemmingway.  But, when searching for good tips for writing a book, scattering adverbs sparsely is one that Rowling agrees with.

When interviewed on the Charlie Rose show, she commented on how she wished she could rehash her earlier Potter novels and remove all the adverbs.

#3 “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” J.K. Rowling

As writing is a creative sport, writers often feel like they can and should only write when they feel inspired.  Rowling unguardedly disagrees and claims a work ethos that she drops into her top writing tips – treat writing like work.

Most aspiring authors are desperately trying to write themselves out of a 9 to 5 and if nothing else, can feel reassured to know that J.K. Rowling used to write through the night.  Since having a family she waits for the house to be empty but still puts in a solid eight hours daily into writing.  If you want your writing to pay out, treat it like a job.

#4  You are allowed to have more than one on the go

Many of us writers are guilty of this – pursuing more than one novel idea at a time and feeling guilty for doing so because none of them are getting finished.  To our reassurance, listed in the J.K. Rowling tips on writing is her admission that she often does the same.  She admits that novels get completed faster if you focus on just one but, it is not an unrealistic prospect to be working on multiple projects.

#5  She re-wrote her first chapter fifteen times…

No matter how well you have planned your novel, one of the top writing tips that J.K. Rowling imparts is that re-writing is essential.  She herself reworked her first chapter fifteen times until it was perfect.

#6  Keep your readers on the edge of a cliff

Out of all the good tips for writing a book, this is the one that Rowling had to learn the hard way.

I flinch at the thought of it.

After J.K. Rowling had written her first of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, she realised that she had given away her entire plot – for all seven books!  She had to re-write it in order to keep the readers wanting more.  How?  Well, that leads me to the next of the J.K. Rowling tips on writing.

#7  Write strategically

If you follow the first of these top writing tips you will be in a position to think strategically.  In order to avoid the above-mentioned mistake Rowling made, you should ensure that you do not give too much away.  This sounds obvious but, is, in fact, an easy thing to trip up on.  This is because you know what is going to happen so can struggle to see it through the eyes of the unknowing reader.

#8  “What you write becomes who you are” J.K. Rowling

“… so make sure you love what you write!”

Any successful writer will tell you that they did not wake up one day and say to themselves “Today I have decided to become a writer”, they simply are one.  If you want to write, just do it.

If your aim is to publish, one of the good tips for writing a book is to bear in mind that not everything is publishable.  But, it is important to write from your heart.  One of the most alluring things about the ‘Harry Potter’ series is its passion – the only thing that could possibly drive such a concept that has been so intricately designed.

#9  Create good characters

In a QA session hosted by Stephen Fry, at the Albert Hall, adult audience members asked questions about the Harry Potter characters – as though they were real!

One member asked “Professor Snape has always wanted to be Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In book five he doesn’t get the job. Why doesn’t Professor Dumbledore let him be the DADA teacher?”

Create a world – it doesn’t have to be a fantasy based one – but one that your readers will be drawn to.  After all, most readers read for escapism – make people want to escape into your world and hang out with your characters.

#10  Be patient

J.K. Rowling openly talks of her struggles to get published – it certainly wasn’t easy for her.  Given that it took around a decade from ‘Harry Potter’s’ inception to being published, being patient is a crucial trait.

It is true that if you have been rejected by every publishing house in the world, it may be time to accept defeat but, equally, consider this.

 

J.K. Rowling – An Inspiration

An unknown Joanne Rowling, an unemployed woman living on state benefits became J.K. Rowling, billionaire author within 5 years.  ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected by numerous publishers for a year.  She waited patiently and it paid off.

Want to feel even more inspired?  Listen to J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech.

 

See more in the Learn From The Best blog series:

How E.L. James Made Millions From Her Midlife Crisis

Dan Brown’s Writing Tips For Page Turners