Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Write Fantasy That Sells!

Guest post by L R Saul

I frequently hear people ask, "Why is Harry Potter so successful?" I even find book reviewers and publishers asking it. They scratch their heads, baffled. But the success behind Harry Potter, and other very memorable fantasy books, is in fact devilishly simple. It's just a matter of knowing two secrets. So what are they?

I'm going to reveal to you, the mystery behind the success of Harry Potter. Its success comes from its use of, well... mystery. It is the many mysteries and hooks running through the entire series that pulls readers in and keeps them there. But why mystery?

The human being has an insatiable need for answers. Not one human being, of any age, is exempt from that. Not one! Think about a baby wanting know what happens if it pushes that red button on that toy. Or adults needing to know the source of that strange noise in the night. Or teens nervously chatting about that strange man lurking around the school yard and what he could possibly be up to.

It means that, just by cleverly utilising mystery, you have the power to appeal to human beings from one end of our planet to the other. Ask some very intriguing questions, and a reader will go with you anywhere you take them until they have the answers. Powerful and unanswered questions -mysteries - are some of the greatest sellers of books of all time. Mysteries in fantasy are no exception.

I often tell potential readers of my fantasy novels to just give me the first two pages. That's it. Just the first two. My goal is to hook them sufficiently, and then to keep on raising questions that will take them to the end. The secret to that is simply... mystery.

Mystery, however, shouldn't stand alone. And that leads me to the second secret of a successful fantasy novel: its message.

Mystery needs to pair with a message to make a great fantasy book. Think about Harry Potter, with its message of good versus evil, and the power of friendship and sacrificial love. It was a message that escaped no one, and in its amazing way, it bonded an entire generation of people as we all sat at our café tables or on couches and discussed our mutual love for, or curiosity over, the Harry Potter books.

Mystery isn't the only thing that has the power to carry a reader to the end. Unresolved personal conflict and deeper themes are just as effective. We need a resolution to those deeper issues so badly, that they will also pull us all the way to the last page. A character burning with a lust for revenge will carry us on until we either see that revenge carried out, or watch the character transform as the character forgives. Readers find it very hard to leave such intense personal conflict hanging.

Fantasy has the power to change you - whether through film or books. In fact, it has the power to change a whole generation, as Harry Potter did. Books should change you, so why should fantasy be exempt from that? There is the argument that fantasy is just escapism, and it should be left that way. But tell me, who amongst you didn't escape into the world of Harry Potter only to find yourself emerging at the end different somehow? You escaped because of the message, not despite it.

So write a fantasy book that can change the world; thicken it with personal conflict; make it about issues that mean a great deal to you; then make sure it intrigues us and asks questions we can't possibly ignore; and I guarantee you the world will read it... and love it. LR Saul is the author of several fantasy novels for adults and young adults, including Bloodline: Alliance and Bloodline: Covenant. When she's not writing books, LR Saul is thinking about books, reading books, editing books, teaching about books, writing articles about books, or trying to ignore books. To learn more about her or her novels, go to

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