The Magic Ingredient for Commercial Fiction Writing

There’s a big difference between carefree writing and commercial writing. When writing without a care in the world, the pace tends to be slow and the content itself a bit fluffy. Readers want meat! But do you know what they want even more? They want the magic ingredient: “Fear.”

I’m not talking about horror or trying to frighten the reader with spooky stories, but rather get them anxious or worried for the main character. An excellent example of this is The Martian. I was terrified for Mark Watney every step of the way. His story is an ideal example of what I’m trying to say here. The overall arc of the book was to get Watney off Mars, but every scene had some small event to worry about. First he has no food. Then there’s an oxygen leak in his tent. Then he needs to find an old rover and brave an unknown wasteland. Etc. Etc. There are tons of things that can go wrong on Mars! Needless to say, every scene has a problem, and it gets resolved one way or another. And throughout that whole scene, the reader is biting their nails terrified that Watney isn’t going to make it.

The Martian is also classified as a thriller, so I think it amps up this concept a bit more than other novels. But I highly encourage you to take note. This book was self-published on Andy Weir’s blog and is now a multi-million dollar Hollywood film. There are other things he did right, but I heartily believe that this magic ingredient of “fear” is what has made it so successful.

This perhaps is an advanced concept, and when writing you may not be sure if you have that element present or not. In my book “A Guide to Writing Your First Novel” I explain how to achieve better pacing through efficient word count and fat you can trim off your novel. That will go a long way into removing distractions for the reader so they’re capable of seeing the main objective of the scene. This scene needs to have “Narrative Thrust” as explained in Paula Munier’s Book (or you can see the shortened blog version here). If the reader, however, is too distracted, they’re going to feel confused and frustrated and miss the point you’re trying to make.

The reader is going to trust you immensely once they’re interested in your novel. Every bit of information you provide they will judge just as important as anything else in the book. That’s why if you start to drone on about a sunset, they’re going to start to feel bored because it just so turns out that the sun ISN’T going to explode, and learning all about how beautiful it is really had no purpose whatsoever to the story, no matter how elegantly written. So keep that in mind when you’re chattering on about something you may love, but a reader may not!

As Usual, Happy Writing!


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