I’m going to write a bestseller.
Because women buy most of the books, my bestseller will have a female protagonist.
I’m going to call her Greta because I’ve always thought that Greta is a pretty name.
In addition, I have become aware that the supernatural is hot, that people enjoy elements of mystery and magic in their bestselling books, that otherworldly creatures have a romantic appeal while also providing avenues for surprising turns of plot since supernatural creatures, by definition, are not bound by our natural world. However, the most common supernatural creatures—werewolves, vampires, witches, elves/orcs, and dragons— while “hot,” are also said to be potentially “overdone,” or “spent.” Above all, my bestseller will be original, so my bestseller will not have any werewolves, vampires, witches, elves/orcs, or dragons.
Therefore, the protagonist of my bestseller will be a female yeti, also known as a sasquatch, by the name of Greta. The working title (tentative) will be, Bigfoot Woman.
Greta may or may not have a pet unicorn.
It has come to my attention that a good strategy for a bestselling book is to write in a way that will appeal to both young adults and adults alike, primarily (though not exclusively) women. This makes sense when one realizes that adults are just grown up children most (but not all) of whom would prefer to return to their childhoods because deep inside we all retain a child’s sense of wonder. If there’s any doubt about this, go to the Fourth of July fireworks and tell me there aren’t plenty of grownups going “ooh” and “ahh,” at the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in the air.
So, the protagonist of my bestseller is now a teenage yeti named Greta who may or may not have a pet unicorn. For obvious reasons the working title has changed from Bigfoot Woman to Bigfoot Girl.
All good books have conflict, and one form of conflict is internal conflict, something that goes on inside all of us, unseen, but also unavoidable. Often, writers draw on their own experience when developing conflict. An example of an internal conflict is a writer trying to decide what kind of book to write. I have decided to write a bestseller, so I have no more internal conflict, thus I will have to look elsewhere for Greta’s conflict. Since Greta is a teenager, and teenagers often struggle over issues of identity, you know, trying to figure out who and what they are and what they would like out of life, I’ve decided that this is what Greta will struggle with. In order to make this struggle more apparent and accessible to my reading audience of young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers, my protagonist will be a teenage half-yeti, half-human female named Greta.
I’m starting to have strong doubts about the pet unicorn, unless it can also talk, or perhaps read minds, or maybe change colors depending on Greta’s mood, which would be an interesting way of symbolizing Greta’s conflict come to think about it.
What you’ve seen right there is what we writers call, “creativity,” real seat-of-the-pants invention type stuff where you’re just letting your mind go and seeing what connections it can make. I was about to ditch the pet unicorn, but instead, I made it many times better. It’s an incredible thing. This is one of the chief pleasures of writing, second only to getting official notification that the book you’ve written is a bestseller. You should try it.
My half-human, half-yeti, teenage protagonist Greta will be struggling over her identity, namely, is she human, or is she yeti? Some reviewers will surmise that this internal conflict is analogous to someone’s struggle over their sexuality or racial identity, and because I am savvy (a pre-requisite to writing a best seller), I will let them say these things, even though they’ll be wrong. Greta’s internal struggle will clearly be over whether she is human or yeti and nothing else.
Some things just are what they are.
My bestseller will need a setting, a place for my character to engage in action. I am choosing the setting before I develop the action because good writers know that action does not come first. Action flows out of character, conflict, and place. The story of a half-yeti, half-human teenage female named Greta in outer space would entail very different actions than the story of a half-yeti, half-human teenage female named Greta in Mumbai, India.
I have decided that the setting for my best seller will be high school.
Instinctively I know that this is a good choice for several reasons. One, my audience of young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers will either currently be in or have been to high school and will instantly relate to the various goings-on in my bestseller about the story of a half-yeti, half-human teenage female named Greta.
Two, I have been to high school and am therefore familiar with the setting, limiting the need for outside research, which would be intensive and time-consuming if my setting were places like outer space or Mumbai, India, places I’ve never been, nor particularly want to go to.
Third, this adds an exciting new element to my best seller’s continually evolving working title, Bigfoot Girl Goes to High School.
And finally, even as I decided that the setting would be high school, I began to see potential for happenings which will illuminate Greta’s internal conflict into external dramatic action. For example, because of her half-yeti heritage Greta will be quite tall and unusually strong, but she will also hate basketball and will therefore have to deal with the constant pleas to join the team from the basketball coach, Ms. Franchione, who is convinced that with Greta patrolling the middle, her team will have a real shot at the state championship. Ms. Franchione will also recognize that being a basketball star would help Greta with her issues of identity since Greta would then see herself in terms of her abilities, rather than her mixed genetic heritage, like how I self-identify as a “writer of a bestseller” so anything else you may find out about me becomes irrelevant.
I am also envisioning a scene where Greta is publicly and humiliatingly ostracized, not only because it would be a manifestation and intensification of her internal conflict regarding her half-yeti, half-human status, but also because at some point during high school, all girls are publicly and humiliatingly ostracized—usually, and ironically, by their friends.
All bestselling books employ irony.
I’m thinking that there will be a moment when Laura, Greta’s best childhood friend and neighbor, and Greta will be entering a bathroom, and loud enough for everyone to hear, Laura will turn to Greta and say, “The sign on the door says ‘girls’, not ‘freaks’.” In the moment, Greta will be shocked and silent, since the comment has cut to the core of her own doubts about herself. On the way home as the pent-up tears flow down her cheeks, she will overturn several cars, which will cause her mother significant trouble because she will have to make restitution to the owners.
Notice how my choices of character—a half-yeti, half human female named Greta—and setting—high school—for my bestseller have given birth to several supporting characters: Ms. Franchione, Laura, and now Greta’s mother. Of these Greta’s mother will be the most important and therefore she will have significant conflicts of her own. Greta’s mother will be an ex beauty pageant contestant who retains traces of her loveliness, but has been mostly worn down by the struggle of being a single mother to a half-yeti, half-human female named Greta. Greta’s mother will be named Tammy because this is an appropriate name for an aging beauty who works waiting tables in a restaurant that is probably a diner.
I haven’t forgotten about the unicorn. It’s going to be half the size of a Chihuahua and Greta will keep it in her backpack. This makes sense and will be compelling to my audience of young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers because I will claim that unicorns are not imaginary at all, but rather quite common and the problem is that we don’t spend enough time looking at the ground to see them. I’m envisioning a product tie-in, which is not my area of expertise, but seems pretty obvious.
You know, plush toys.
I haven’t forgotten about plot either. Many books are published without plots, but very few bestselling books are absent plot. Plot is not to be confused with action or story. Action is stuff that happens. Story is the sum total of the action. Plot is action that happens because one action caused another action. Without the initial action, there would not be the second. The classic example to illustrate this distinction is that story is, “The queen died, then the king died.” Plot is, “The queen died and then the king died of grief.”
To apply this to the writing of my bestseller, story is, “I wrote a bestseller and I got rich.” Plot is, “Because of the writing of a bestseller, I got rich and had to hire an accountant to keep track of all of my money.”
An underappreciated aspect of writing a bestseller is the choice of font. I choose Garamond, a very old typeface that conveys a sense of fluidity and consistency.
It looks like this.
Romance. I’m going to need a romance, since, after all, my bestseller is intended for an audience of young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers who like romance and have a thirst for love. (Male readers also have a thirst for love, but they’re less likely to admit it. Very few males will purchase my bestseller—or when they do, they will claim it is as a gift—but many more will read it, sneaking it off the shelves after the women in their lives have finished.)
Romance comes in two forms, requited and unrequited, and my bestseller will have one of each since they both provide compelling emotional reading experiences, experiences that are further heightened when placed in juxtaposition.
The (ultimately) requited romance will involve my protagonist, the half-human, half-yeti female named Greta and the high school’s star athlete, Jimmy. In order to keep Jimmy from being a cliché he will be not a quarterback, but a running back, and also be up for the yearly science prize and an academic scholarship for his project on sequencing DNA. It is Jimmy’s prowess with genotyping that initially attracts Greta to Jimmy since he may provide a key to unlocking her true identity, but mostly, she likes how his eyes are kind, and she just wants to go to prom where she, rather than Laura, will be crowned queen and have a dance with the smartest and handsomest boy in the school (Jimmy). My audience of young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers will like this because it is a conclusion that implies a kind of worldly order, a reassurance that love can conquer all in a frequently chaotic world.
The working title for my bestseller is now Bigfoot Girl Wants to Go to Prom with Jimmy the Science-Loving Running Back.
The unrequited romance will involve Greta’s mother, Tammy, and Greta’s father, whose name is unpronounceable in English as it consists of a series of guttural noises generally not producible by the human anatomy, so we’ll call him Phil. When Tammy was in high school herself, she became lost in the woods during a family camping trip. She had left camp to gather firewood, but soon found herself trapped, her foot hopelessly pinned under a log. As night fell, exhausted from her struggles to free her foot and crying out for help, she lost consciousness, wondering if she’d ever awake again. As she slept, Phil came upon her and lifted the log off her foot and gently carried her back to his lair where he laid her in a bed of leaves near the fire and placed a poultice on her swollen ankle and ministered drops of water to her parched lips from a hollowed-out piece of bark.
When Tammy awakes, she sees Phil and is not afraid, which is pretty much a first for Phil when it comes to encounters with humans. Tammy spends seven days with Phil in his lair, during which time they make sweet, interspecies love often, as though their coupling has been drawn by the Fates themselves. Ultimately, though, the search party looking for Tammy comes increasingly closer to Phil’s lair and there is a real, increasingly serious danger that Phil will be found out, that he will be captured and imprisoned and become a permanent object of scientific study. Though Tammy and Phil cannot actually talk to each other because they do not share a verbal language, their touch and the looks in their eyes make it clear that there is only one, tragic choice to be made, that Tammy must leave the lair, allow herself to be found, lie about the circumstances of her survival, and ultimately, eleven months later when Greta is born (yeti gestation time is longer than humans) say that the father is “just some dumb boy,” that she wants nothing to do with. Because Tammy has been through a terrible trauma, people will choose to believe her, even though when she is born, Greta weighs nearly sixteen pounds and is covered head to toe in a light fur.
Whoa. That even began to get to me a little. This is getting exciting. I can’t wait to start writing my bestseller. I think that maybe I will tell the publisher to print my bestseller on paper that is especially absorbent in order to sop up the likely tears of my young and not young—primarily but not exclusively—female readers.
One of the important things to do when writing a bestseller is to decide which common elements of bestsellers to leave out of my bestseller. Therefore, my bestseller will not have the following: sword fights, time travel, secret societies, clones, profanity.
Though even as I type this, I am reconsidering the exclusion of secret societies since a secret society of yeti hunters, perhaps led by the father of Laura, former best friend, and then rival of Greta, my half-yeti, half-human female protagonist, could provide an interesting and dangerous subplot.
What this goes to show is that there’s no real formula to writing a bestseller. The moment you think you’re not going to do something, bam! You wind up doing it.
My bestseller is going to need a climax, and looking at my plans for my bestseller I can already see the seeds of something that will be really whiz-bang.
It will happen on prom night. Many things have come to a head all together. Tammy, Greta’s mother, will finally confirm what Greta has long suspected about her parentage, that she is the product of the coupling of human and yeti. On the one hand, she will be relieved to finally know the truth. On the other hand, it turns out that she really is kind of a freak. At the same time, the pressure is growing more serious on Greta’s mother, Tammy, to repay the owners of the cars damaged by Greta when she overturned them following her confrontation with her former best friend, Laura; the sheriff is threatening to arrest Tammy if she can’t come up with the payment.
In the meantime, Laura’s father, the head of the secret society of yeti hunters is aware that Jimmy is sequencing Greta’s DNA and plans on stealing the final genetic analysis in order to prove Greta’s true nature. Laura’s father, wielding the data printout from Jimmy’s machine, plans to then interrupt prom night by capturing Greta and taking her back to the secret society for further study. In his head he has rehearsed his triumphant line, “This is no prom queen! This is a monster!”
Guilt-ridden by the fact that her mother is going to pay the consequences for Greta’s destruction of the automobiles and simultaneously curious about and embittered at her father, on prom night Greta hatches a plan to find him in the woods, confront him about his absence from her life and also take his picture that she will sell to a tabloid newspaper for enough money to pay for the damaged autos. She is hoping all of this can be wrapped up in time for her to make the announcement of prom queen and have a dance with Jimmy, her true love.
Relying on her half-yeti instincts Greta is able to find her father’s lair and upon confronting him discovers that she can actually speak passable yeti and finds out that it is clear that her father, who we’re calling Phil, never knew of her existence and is overjoyed to find out that he has a daughter. After a long and loving embrace Greta explains Tammy’s situation to Phil (in yeti) and he agrees to let his picture be taken in order to raise the money, as long as it is from a sufficient distance and kind of blurry.
At this moment, Greta’s tiny unicorn will have a golden, kind of buttery glow, which will symbolize love and also togetherness.
But just as Greta is to bid farewell to her father and return to town in order to dress for the prom where she will be crowned prom queen and dance with her true love Jimmy, they will hear the advance of a strike team from the secret yeti-hunting society. The strike team has been able to follow Greta’s trail because as only half-yeti she is not as skilled at covering her tracks as her father, and in a parallel to the earlier flashback scene where Phil and Greta’s mother, Tammy, are almost found out, a quick and sudden sacrifice must be made, though this time it is Phil who makes it, charging out of his lair while unleashing his fiercest yeti bellow and attempting to lead the secret society strike team deeper and deeper into the woods, away from his daughter so her secret will not be discovered. In the lair, Greta will hear the gunshots of the strike team echoing further and further in the distance as her father runs for his life.
While this is happening, Jimmy discovers Laura’s father’s plan to reveal Greta’s mixed-species DNA at prom, so Jimmy intentionally alters his DNA sequencer to produce an obviously false result declaring that Greta is actually a marsupial. This will sabotage Laura’s father’s plan and make him look foolish in front of everyone at the prom, but it also torpedoes Jimmy’s hopes for an academic scholarship which would have allowed him to quit playing football, which he secretly loathes.
Like I said, irony.
Sadly, all this prom night activity actually causes both Greta and Jimmy to miss the dance, so when they are announced as queen and king a single spotlight will shine on the empty gym floor. The bestseller will end with Tammy making her way home from the woods and Jimmy sitting alone in his lab.
It’s hard to express how much fun it has been to write about writing my bestseller. In fact, it has been so much fun that I’m not particularly looking forward to actually writing my bestseller any more. One of the cruel ironies about writing is that the idea, the conception, the vision, never gets on the page in quite the way it exists in the writer’s mind, and in writing about writing my bestseller I realize that this is inevitably the case here. Greta and Tammy and Phil and Jimmy and Laura and Laura’s father and Ms. Franchione and the yeti-hunting secret society strike team are very much alive inside of me—I feel their presences very very deeply—and I’m afraid that putting them on the page, rather than bringing them alive, would, in reality, instead be the slow process of killing them and I’m not sure I’m prepared to do that.
I’ve got a lot of respect for the people who do write bestsellers. They must have a ruthlessness that I lack.
But fortunately, look at all the questions I’ve left myself. Did Phil escape the strike team to possibly reunite with Greta and Tammy? Will Laura’s father discover Greta’s secret? If you are not there to receive the prom queen’s crown, are you still the prom queen? And most of all, I recognize my previously planned requited love has been left unrequited. When it is all said and done, will Jimmy and Greta find true love with each other?
All these questions have a significant upside, namely the need for a sequel, which I am going to start writing about right now. It is going to be called, Bigfoot Girl Goes to College.