Use The Da Vinci Code as a master class in writing a blockbuster
THERE comes a time, whether you are taking a master’s degree in
creative writing, working through a home study course or going along to your
adult education centre, when you should begin to teach yourself to write.
What you have learned about point of view, characters, themes, action and
step sheets has to be practised. The more you practise the better you will
become: if you have a plan and a role model.
Glance down the top ten best-sellers of paperback fiction and what do you
find? The name of Dan Brown topping the list with The Da Vinci Code.
Hardly surprising as when it came out in hardback the reviews were ecstatic
and the word-of-mouth recommendations flew across the Atlantic to boost
Looking further down the list you will find three more titles by the same
author. Now I know that success breeds success but such a feat in modern
times may well be unprecedented.
Dan Brown lives in New England and has studied and taught English and
Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. His other best-sellers have
been Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and Deception
Brown comes from an academic background. His father was a distinguished
professor of mathematics and his mother an exponent of sacred music. Hence,
he grew up surrounded by the paradoxical philosophies of science and
religion. His wife Blythe who is a painter and art historian helps with his
research and travelled with him to Paris where they visited the Louvre as
part of the preparation.
If you have not read The Da Vinci Code published by Corgi,
can I suggest that now would be a good time to read it twice: once for
entertainment and again for enlightenment.
The second time around read it with a pad at your side and make notes
under a variety of headings. Make up your own headings or use some of these,
but at the top of your pad write: How to create a best-seller. That will
keep you focused on the task at hand. From your notes create a series of
step sheets as if you were writing a novel.
This will not be a five-minute job but if it takes up a month of your
writing time – say 80 hours, I am sure that the effort will be worthwhile.
Somebody once said – and if it was not Tom Clancy, it sounds like him –
if you want to write a big story you need a big theme. So start with the
theme and analyse the book. Score each heading out of 20 points and make a
brief resumé of why you think a particular mark is justified.
THEME: The historical view of women in religion has been to put
them in a subordinate role. How did this happen . . .is it justified
according to the author . . . and what historical facts impinge on this
PLOT: On a simple level we have a crime or adventure story which
centres on a search for the Holy Grail. Sub-plots abound.
RESEARCH ELEMENT: Far heavier than most novels, involving
principally history, art, cryptology, the Church and secret societies.
ENTERTAINMENT LEVEL: Gripping and enthralling. Despite some of the
book being outright fiction there are so many facts that the element of
verisimilitude means the reader does not have to suspend belief.
ACTION AND PACE: No novel in modern times can match this one for
"page turning construction" as the Bookseller would say. Each chapter
seems to end on a cliff-hanger luring the reader on. The protagonists face
hurdle after hurdle on their way to the climax.
CHARACTERS: A fascinating mixture but perhaps the goodies are a
shade too white and the villains a little too black. Is the author crafting
almost automatic film offers into the manuscript?
DIALOGUE: Test it by reading sections aloud. Does it flow? Does it
fit with the characters? Will any survive the film script?
LANGUAGE: Is the author always in total control? Does the
introduction of French phrases, numerical codes and esoteric phrases
belonging to specialised subjects confuse or educate the reader?
OPENING: Does the beginning echo the elements of a good stage play
– Curtain up! Action. How does the author achieve this?
ENDING: How has the author managed to avoid an anti-climax? Or did
you feel the ending was a letdown? Did you feel you wanted to run out and
buy another of his books? Would you recommend it to a friend or your reading
TITLE: Echoes of other great titles of adventure stories: The
Bourne Identity and The Ipcress File.
Reviews from The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Christian
Science Monitor to our own papers have been fulsome in their praise. Now
you have the chance to analyse it and see why. Here you will find the
ingredients for a blockbuster – but can you find a theme and a way to put
Next month we will give you our analysis.