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How to write a blockbuster novel

By Paul Sussman for CNN
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(CNN) -- Bored with the day job and fancy penning a blockbuster novel? Here's how to access your inner Dan Brown.

Steer clear of self-help guides such as this one: Type "How to write a bestselling novel" into Google and you will be confronted with 3,220,000 Web pages, all bursting at the seems with tips on how to realize your literary aspirations. Ignore it, all of it. Failure to do so will pitch you into a glutinous mire of well-meaning but contradictory advice. The simple truth is that if you have determination, self-discipline and a basic -- like kindergarten level -- command of whatever language you happen to be writing in, you have all the necessary tools to hand to pen a bestseller. Everything else is just hot air.

Laze around in your underwear: A crucial, and often underrated part of the novel writing process is the "allowing ideas to slowly germinate" phase, also known as lying around in your underpants eating biscuits and watching useless daytime TV. Just as an acorn will never grow into a spreading oak if you keeping poking it, and squeezing it, and screaming "Grow, damn you!" at it, so you need to give yourself time and space for the story to develop in your mind. Two or three years should be enough. Any longer than that and "development" tends to segue into catatonia.

Inject plenty of bogus history, preferably of a biblical nature: There is a wonderful Roald Dahl short story entitled 'The Great Automatic Grammatizator' in which a man creates a giant novel-writing machine that, at the push of a button, allows him to infuse his manuscript with precise amounts of romance, sex, action, intrigue, humor etc. In today's publishing climate, should such a machine actually exist, the aspiring writer would be well advised to jam his finger firmly on the "ludicrous cod-historical mystery" button. Where once popular novels involved tales of love or crime, today's bestseller is a convoluted stream of pseudo-historical facts culminating in an earth-shattering revelation that you saw coming from early in chapter two. If the earth-shattering revelation can involve Jesus, ancient Egypt, the Roswell incident, the Knights Templar and/or Atlantis so much the better. A plot in which a telepathic Mary Magdalene is revealed as the renegade love child of alien transvestite Tutankhamun is an almost guaranteed bestseller.

Ensure your lead characters are good looking: It is a sad truism of blockbuster fiction that the heroes (and heroines) who really grab the public's imagination are the ones who look like catwalk models (not for nothing are we told, from the moment we first meet him, that Robert Langdon, hero of "The Da Vinci Code," is not only a symbologist, but an extremely handsome one as well). Good looks sell books. Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johannson -- these are the people you need to imagine playing your protagonists in the film of your book. If you're picturing Danny De Vito and Roseanne Barr you're onto a loser.

Include plenty of cliff-hangers: The guaranteed way to keep your reader engaged is to end every chapter on a cliffhanger. Even if the chapter is only describing a trip to the local supermarket, try to finish with something like: "Then, just as he decided on the Lincolnshire pork sausages with apple rather than Cumberland with leek, a deafening shot rang out......"

The hard part: However good looking your protagonists, pseudo-intellectual your plot and vertiginous your cliff-hangers, there is one last hurdle you have to clear before you hit the top of the bestseller lists: you've actually got to write the damned book. It is the hurdle at which many an aspiring John Grisham falls, because translating that multi-million dollar masterpiece in your head onto the page is without doubt the hardest part of the entire process. Sadly there are no shortcuts here, no easy panaceas. You've just got to bite the bullet, sit down (or get up -- Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Victor Hugo and Ernest Hemingway all wrote while standing) and churn the thing out. As the old adage goes: "Writing is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." And boy are you going to perspire.


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"The Da Vinci Code:" the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters.

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