Today is the birthday of American writer John Grisham whose books have sold over 300 million copies and been translated into 40 languages.
Born in Arkansas in 1955, Grisham was a small-town lawyer in Mississippi before he was a writer of legal thrillers. His first book A Time to Kill had limited success; the book’s initial printing of 5,000 copies did not sell out (1).
Luckily Grisham continued to write. In 1973, he read an article by Brian Garfield in the magazine Writer’s Digest entitled, “10 Rules for Suspense Fiction.” Grisham applied these best practices in his second book The Firm, and they worked. The Firm was a phenomenal success, remaining on the New York Times bestsellers lists for 44 weeks. Later the book was made into a feature film starring Tom Cruise. Garfield’s rules must work for movies too — to date, eight other books by Grisham have been made into films.
That original Writer’s Digest article offers the following concise decalogue of writing advice:
The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller
- Start with action; explain it later.
- Make it tough for your protagonist.
- Plant it early; pay it off later.
- Give the protagonist the initiative.
- Give the protagonist a personal stake.
- Give the protagonist a tight time limit, and then shorten it.
- Choose your character according to your own capacities, as well as his.
- Know your destination before you set out.
- Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread.
- Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to read. (2)
Today’s Challenge: Best Practices Make Perfect
What rules for success or best practices would you put down in writing for a specific area of your expertise or for life in general? Brainstorm some specific areas where you have expertise and experience — hobbies, sports, academic disciplines, etc. Then, think about how you would state some concise rules for success based on your personal experience. As in Brian Garfield’s list, write your rules concisely, and make them parallel, stating each one in the imperative form — beginning with a verb. Write at least three rules, and follow each of your rules with some examples and explanation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Explostory)
Quotation of the Day: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. –W. Somerset Maugham