Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Elements of a Literary Blockbuster

Have you ever wondered what differentiates Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Artemis Fowl, The Hunger Games, etc. from other books? What the heck makes them so famous? Besides being well written and all that. I know a ton of well written books that aren't nearly on the same level they are!

This is more of a thought/opinion post than anything.


I just finished reading two books, Eldest and The Floating Island. Both well written fantasy novels, that while good, would not make it near the top of my "Best Ever" list. I bet you've read Eldest. It was everywhere a couple years ago. I bet you've never even heard of The Floating Island. (This isn't really a fair comparison, as Eldest  is Older Teen and TFI is Children's, but hey, it started the discussion)

Suzanne Collins. What did you just think of? Yeah, her beyond-blockbuster series The Hunger Games. She wrote another series a couple while back. It was called Gregor the Overlander. I read Gregor, and it was suspenseful, engaging, fun to read, and a good book. But it never reached nearly the same level of hype as THG, even before the movie.

So I was wondering, what makes these amazing blockbuster books so different from your average well written book?

1. Good writing in general. Characters, suspense, yada yada.
This one is sort of obvious, but most blockbusters are an entirely different level of "good" writing. Like, "good" writing is here, and JK Rowling is (jumps on chair) here!

2. An interesting, original premise and a plot that, when summed up, makes people actually want to read it.
This is huge. Most people read books not because of advertisements and whatnot, but from word of mouth. People tell you about a book and you decide whether or not you want to read it! And so, most blockbusters have an interesting premise that is memorable and makes you motivated enough to want to look it up.

Imagine your reaction if you're hanging out and your friend mentions a book. "Oh, what's it about?" you ask. What they say determines if the title goes out your other ear, or if you actually take the time to look at it and read it.

"A futuristic totalitarian world where children are conscripted into a televised fight to the death." Interesting!
"A 12 year old who goes to a boarding school for wizards" Great!
"A flock of kids who are genetically modified to have wings and fly, among other superpowers." Totally!
 "Greek myths and monsters in the real world!" Gotta read it!"A 12 year old genius billionaire criminal mastermind and his gun toting fairy sidekicks!" Awesome!

"A 12 year old who falls to the underground world and chillaxes with giant beetles and bats..." (<-Gregor) Maybe?
"Some kid who is attacked by pirates and goes to live in a haunted inn?"(

Can you see the difference here? No matter how amazing and beautiful and awesome a book is, it all goes to waste if no one is intrigued enough by the boring-sounding premise to read it.

Same with Alex Rider and Inkheart. Two series that, IMHO, did not deserve all their blockbusterdom. They both had really interesting sounding ideas though. A fourteen year old spy and a girl who can read characters out of books sound really cool, and that's why they're blockbusters and other books aren't.

Sum up your novel in one sentence for me. If it's something like "Somebody is the lost race of something/a princess/ a ninja and her mom/dad was murdered/missing and she joins this organization" good luck, you'll need it.

3.  Magic magic is magic.
Blockbusters usually involve some kind of magical power. I think the key is how the authors develop the powers and add their own special touches. None of the blockbuster authors stick to the traditional ideas of what magic/elves/fairies/wizards should be like.

 And it's all luck, I think, whether or not readers *click* with the idea or not. In James Patterson's Witch and Wizard, I couldn't connect with the characters or their magic at all. I was like "Okay...she shoots flames out of her hands randomly..." I'm still not sure what Whit's power was.

4. Switch things up
Don't like the idea of wizards being ancient, noble and mysterious? Make them modern, organized and quirky! The traditional nature blond singing-in-the-meadow elf not for you? Give her mechanical wings and high tech laser blasters!

A lot of the authors took something that was old and remade it as new and original. There's a whole world of new ideas out there!

5. A specific set of secondary characters(and some sort of backup organization/higher cause)
This is something I saw a lot when I was reading. I think readers like having an established set of characters more than characters who are always fading in and out of the picture. In books I liked, characters were always laid down and established quickly. The reader's mind, IMO, needs some people to latch on to, and learn about, and root for. There'll always be secondary characters close to readers' hearts.

This is the character problem I had with Eragon, with TFI, with Alex Rider, and even with The Hunger Games at first. There were  just too many darn characters that I couldn't keep track of. Who was important? Who wasn't? (And it didn't help when they all had names like" Eldaerawynila") That, or there was UNO or DOS main characters and all the other characters were minor and teeny and there was never anybody to play the main character off of and help him/her develop.

Also, Harry Potter had Hogwarts, Percy had Camp Half Blood, Eragon had the Varden. What higher cause/backup organization is your character fighting for? I don't know why this works, but it does. I think it causes more opportunities for plot twists and character development. It makes the character feel less like a lone ship drifting in the big ocean of the story and help make the character more solid and relatable.

6. Humor
Humor is like everything. Even sad dark stories have some humor. Your plot could be total crap but if it's funny, I'll like it.

7. Quirky characters(PLEASE DO NOT OVERDO)
Quirky characters are so much fun to read/write about. Most stories have characters that don't fit into predeveloped character modes, and are mean, or quirky, or funny, or airheaded. They always add flavor and life to the story and make it unique.

But for the life of me don't cram your story with them PLEASE.

8. The balance of conflict
Conflict is a big part of stories, but I think a problem in non-blockbuster stories is too little or too much of different kinds of conflict. Remember there's inter-protagonist conflict, protagonist-antagonist conflict, inner conflict, situational conflict, and stories should have all or most of them.

Just remember, original is much more likely to be blockbuster.
I would recommend breaking out of the classic-fantasy genre for now(although anything is possible!) I think the classic fantasy cycle is fading out for now and there's less interest in it.
Dystopian/modern is really in right now, not just because of The Hunger Games but also because of books like Uglies, Divergent, Delirium, City of Bones and The Maze Runner.  The future has infinite possibilities, and it's easier to write about than you might think.

There's always twists of classic-fantasy. What I would like to read is more modern YA sci/fi like Maximum Ride, but without the paranormal gene. I'd also like to see more blockbuster modern James-Bond-ish spy/espionage YA, like Alex Rider but more awesome. 

More Artemis Fowl-like sci/fi-fantasy blends would be great.

PS. Stay tuned for my Hunger Games movie release-celebration post tomorrow. Yes, it'll be a day early but I don't want to be posting about it the same time as anybody else. And I know it's sorta feeding the flame(PINKY) but it's everywhere anyway. And I'm still excited for the movie and owe THG something for all it's taught me.

PPS. I talked to one of the main girls who got me into THG yesterday, and I asked if she wanted to see the movie with me. And get this-she actually said she didn't want to see it in theaters because the books really freaked her out and she wanted to have the option of pressing pause. And I was like "Jdlajflsjlaj I had no idea! You too?"

PPPS. I plan to just close my eyes and plug my ears.

PPPPS. I saw this thing on tumblr where it said "Cato's theme song from the movie has been released!  Click play!" and so I did and the song was "Who Let the Dog's Out" and I nearly fell of my chair choke-laughing.


  1. Eion Colfer is...*Jumps on Ladder* HERE!

    Who let the Dogs out...Oh my goodness...THAT is..is..is..Words fail me.

  2. I have a bit of a pet peeve with this post. Usually it's not the quality of the book, it's consumer nonsense. A publisher knows what's popular, and that's what they're going to invest more money in.

    1. You think so?! Hmm.
      I'm confused on whether or not you agree or disagree with me, but okeydoke! Totally agree with the publisher thing. Writers can get around that block though.


  3. Enjoyed this, Amaranthine! I love your posts. ;)

    I personally DON'T like modern/future-type stories 99% of the time... I read half of The Maze Runner and stopped, way too creepy for me. But it does seem to be the "in" stuff to read.

    The Hunger Games... I am SO looking forward to seeing it... SO CLOSE! I'm not crazy fangirl for the books, but I definatly enjoyed them. I am glad I read the books first. Those who plan on watching the movie before reading the books.... *points* That's a no no. Get your hands on the book first.

    Who let the dogs out?


    I'll be honest, I lost it. That's sick and hilarious all in one. xD

    -Ley Firewalker

    1. Those were only examples. I'm not really reading any of those anytime soon. But there's TONS of possibilities for non creepy future dystopian stuff.

      IKR?! Love you XD

      I know right? I was actually expecting Cato's theme song, since they've been releasing songs from the movie early. So I clicked on the play, and I was waiting expectantly, and when it started I was like "Holy frijoles....???!!!!" and then I just lost it.


  4. Okay, I have NO idea who 'Cato' is, but when I read his/her 'theme song' was Who Let the Dogs Out I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Bahahhaha!

    Oooh, I love it when people quote me. Pinky at your service! XDDDD

    You're doing a post on THG movie? *hands you gasoline to make things easier*

    1. It's not ACTUALLY his theme song. It's sort of a sick joke XD

      You know you love me,

    2. LOL, I know. ;) I don't completely get the joke, but the idea of that being ANYONE'S theme song is so sick and funny! XDD

  5. Fantastic post. I agree

    and cato's theme song haha epicness lol

    anyways great post love it can't wait to see your THG post. God bless

    1. XD Thanks for the comment! God bless!

  6. HA. Yours and Pinky's love/hate relationship is too cute. ;) I'll be peacemaker once again. *heads over to TLF just in case...*

    This is a fantastic post. Really. I'm amazed. XD You get it....I want you as my publicist someday (should I ever get that far). XD You know what readers want, and you've managed to focus in on what's most important to have in a story to make it hit it big.

    Random, but I've decided that for now, I won't read The Hunger Games. It's everywhere, and I'm kinda tired of hearing/seeing about it. I'll read it this summer when everyone except the diehards are over it. XDD Muahahaha. We'll see how scarred for life I am. >:)

    Amazing post girlfriend, keep it up. ;) You know how to suck your readers in with your snark and truth. ;) You rock.

    Love you lots,
    JC/Fal <333

  7. Great post! I agree, those are typically what catches peoples attention and makes them want to read it. I'm glad my book series follows along a lot of those guide lines(it's a science fiction series). :)

  8. Awesome post! I'll warn you again, though, the last two Gregor books are terrible. :P

    I'm so over the Hunger Games hype now :P


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