I love to find writing inspiration and methods from top writers. If you could host private dinners with best-selling authors, who would you invite? What questions would you ask?
Start with an Invitation List
The internet makes it easy to arrange make-believe dinners with successful writers.
- First, decide who you would like to invite.
- Second, make comparisons easier by preparing questions.
- Third, research your favorite authors.
For example, I’d love to know more about the methods of Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, J. K. Rowling, and Suzanne Collins.
Writing Inspiration and Methods
Everyone has opinions, and just because something works for one best-selling author doesn’t mean it will work for you. Thus, research can identify insights, but you’ll need to use discernment to qualify which writing inspiration and methods best fit your chosen genre and target audience.
I’d ask each author:
- Do you write based on knowledge, research, or imagination?
- Where do your stories take place?
- Who or what opposes your hero or heroine?
- What chief qualities do you emphasize for protagonists?
- What significant or recurring themes do you use in the series?
- Do you follow a story recipe for each book?
- How do you capture and hold the attention of readers?
Research and Gauge Accuracy
The internet offers us a chance to research these questions, and by visiting several sites, you can gauge the accuracy of the answers.
However, given the wide range of information sources, it’s nearly impossible to verify if your virtual dinner guests would agree with your findings. So, let’s treat the information as perceptions and impressions rather than absolute facts.
Ready? Let’s meet our guests for dinner!
You toast Clive Cussler on his long career and share how you’d love to hear his secrets. With a slight smile, he nods, and encourages you to ask away.
- Cussler mentioned he got book ideas from his passions for scuba diving, oceanic travels, and treasure hunting. He also researched extensively, especially the historical events that served as catalysts for his books.
- He told you of his adventures traveling the globe in search of treasure, and many of those exotic places served as story settings.
- Master villains and their henchmen fulfilled key roles as antagonists. He included world governments and dictators in the mix of opposing forces, and the settings added to the conflicts.
- Cussler introduced readers to Dirk Pitt in 1973, and since then, the hero and the author aged at roughly the same pace. Pitt and his sidekick had flaws, but few, and the pair always won over the bad guys despite the odds.
- He used historical facts to set the stage for an imaginary event, reminiscent of Q giving James Bond a special weapon used later to thwart the bad guy.
- The ingredients of Cussler’s novels included the charismatic adventurer (i.e., Dirk Pitt), his witty sidekick, vintage automobiles, gorgeous women, shipwrecks, nefarious criminals, and impending doom.
- The author hooked readers with cliff-hangers. For example, the prologue posed a dramatic question not answered until the epilogue, and most scenes ended in cliff-hangers and kept readers turning pages.
J. K. Rowling
After brief pleasantries, Joanne Rowling shares the story of her tough years prior to the success of Harry Potter, emphasizing that’s why she wants to help writers like you.
- The idea for Harry Potter came to her during a long train ride. Her hand-written notes detailed characters and settings, each carefully crafted from her imagination.
- With her imagination, she strived to move readers from reality to a world of wizards.
- Rowling surrounded the chief villain with many antagonists who troubled Harry and his best friends.
- In the first book, she established a trio of friends: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger.
- The trio’s friendship exemplified essential relationships in the series. Motifs included wizards, magic, symbols, settings, good versus evil, risk versus reward, creative names, and many more tropes.
- The author began with a young boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard and gets an invitation to attend wizard school. From there she spun a story born from her rich imagination, taking readers on Harry’s adventures through seven books and spanning nineteen years of the hero’s life.
- Rowling wrote into scenes an overwhelming sense something important was about to happen, amplifying the main plot of each book with multiple subplots.
As you greet Dan Brown, you reference reading his seven books. He downplays his accomplishments, suggesting he’d like to focus on helping you achieve your writing goals.
- Thriller and suspense novels and films influenced Brown’s books, including works by Sidney Sheldon and Alfred Hitchcock. His childhood fascination with secrets and puzzles led to the creation of key elements in the Da Vinci Code.
- A combination of his research and travels helped him to detail the international locations in his books.
- Brown often tagged his master villains with code names, and included a cast of loyal henchman.
- He established in each book a hero with flaws, but also gave the chief protagonists strengths and paired him with a forceful heroine, thrusting them into the midst of grim murders and complex intrigue.
- The author used symbols with a mix of factual and mythical meanings, which created controversy and gave the books an edgy tone.
- The ingredients of his Langdon series included classic thriller elements, a hero plucked from his stable world, a shadowy force (e.g., secret society or government), a controversial topic with a moral gray area, a female sidekick, and an impending disaster.
- Most scenes in Brown’s thrillers ended with cliff-hangers.
On the fourth night, you’re eager to question Suzanne Collins about The Hunger Games. Before you get started, she throws you for a loop by asking if you’ve read The Underland Chronicles.
Unprepared for her question, warmth creeps to the tips of your ears. Collins breaks the silence and lets you off the hook by acknowledging you’re not alone. Most readers know her because of The Hunger Games trilogy, and not nearly as many have heard of The Underland Chronicles. She mentioned her first series to encourage you, sharing her story of the years before success.
The Hunger Games
As a result, you ask questions about The Hunger Games series, and she gladly responds.
- The inspiration for the books came from a TV reality show and news footage. The images somehow merged in her mind, combining the elements of poverty, starvation, and war.
- She imagined a post-war world with many ruined cities and a lavish capital.
- A corrupt president served as the main villain, but she included many antagonists.
- Collins developed the lead character, a young heroine with abundant grit and a fearless hunter, but flawed and limited by her inability to assess people. For example, the author drew in readers with the heroine’s emotional first-person narrative of unfolding events.
- She used the future dystopian world as a diverse way to bring out character conflicts.
- In the trilogy, Collins forced the beautiful heroine to face one dangerous event after another, emphasizing the lead character’s dilemma: torn between fulfilling her call to be the hero for her people and romantically engaging with the one person who seemed like her enemy. From the first book to the last, the heroine fought against the corrupt government that made slaves of her people.
- The author designed the scenes, chapters, and books to build toward the ultimate climax in the three-book series.
After Dinner Assessments
Above all, I came away with this impression from my research:
There are no shortcuts or sliver bullets used to achieve best-selling author status, and what works for one may not work for others.
I’ll highlight my key insights:
- Commonalities: Each author chose and adhered to a style. To clarify, the writers pushed emotional buttons that resonated with their target audiences. They captured the emotional nuances of their powerful characters, balancing on the writer’s tightrope between action and dialogue. Within each series, they provided readers with familiar frameworks of characters, references, symbols, and motifs. Their themes explored universal truths without preaching.
- Differences: The individual writers latched onto something unique for their stories (e.g., details, characters, settings, moral ambiguities), by which you could easily identify the authors (e.g., Cussler and underwater adventures, Rowling and creative magic, Brown and quirky symbols, and Collins and deadly games).
- Takeaways: The blending of masterful storytelling with unique premises sets these four authors apart from less successful writers. Also, storytelling trumped writing styles, making readers feel like they were along for wild rides with intriguing characters.
Research for Abundant Insights, Writing Inspiration, and Methods
With search engines like Duck Duck Go, Google, and Wikipedia, you can spend a few hours and find abundant insights into best-selling authors and their varied storytelling techniques. For instance, here’s a motivating post: How 50 Famous Authors Find Writing Inspiration.
To record my discoveries, I keep an inexpensive journal and pencil handy. I also use Apple Notes for digital logging of ideas and websites.
In the past, I’ve also used Evernote and Simplenote. My criteria for a notes app is the ability to capture, sync, and access information from my tablet and desktop computers.
Finally, where do you find writing inspiration and methods? How do you capture and access your notes?