Busy Writers: Use Bestselling Authors’ Writing Principles to Please Readers

Writing Principles

While researching The Trellis Method, I came across notable examples of timeless writing principles of craft and patterns.

My research focused on those writing principles praised by readers. Then I dug deep into what set these top writers* apart from others. I looked for how everyday writers could become bestselling authors.

As suspected, these top authors were students of writing craft and they focused relentlessly on pleasing readers with familiar patterns.

Make Your Soul Grow

At age 84, and six months before his death in 2007, Kurt Vonnegut received a letter from students who attended Xavier High School in New York City.

The student’s English teacher, Ms. Lockwood, had given them an assignment to send a persuasive letter to an admired author. Five chose Vonnegut. Although Vonnegut could not visit the students, he responded with an encouraging principle.

Here’s an excerpt from his letter** dated November 5, 2006.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Writing Principles: Craft

I’ve combined and summarized top writers’ attitudes and practices in a format you can apply to your writing.

  1. CRAFT: Adopt, adapt, and practice the writing skills and techniques praised by readers.
  2. WHY: Understand why you write and turn that insight into your steadfast goal.
  3. GOAL: Commit fully to your writing goal (e.g., to entertain, inform, and inspire readers).
  4. FOCUS: Write or not write, but do nothing else except write during your writing time.
  5. BALANCE: Blend readers’ expectations with your creativity and the story’s structure.
  6. PERSISTENCE: Make these ten two-letter words come true: if it is to be, it is up to me.
  7. IMPROVEMENT: Keep moving forward while adopting and adapting improvement ideas.
  8. PATTERNS: Recognize and use successful story patterns to showcase your content.

Although I can’t promise these writing principles will turn you into a bestselling author, I’m confident they’ll go a long way toward pleasing your readers.

Writing Principles: Patterns

Top writers use time-tested story patterns.

  1. GENRES: Understand and apply your chosen genres in ways designed to satisfy readers.
  2. PREMISE: Refine the story’s premise to guide your writing strategically.
  3. CHARACTERS: Develop dynamic characters who satisfy readers’ craving for emotions.
  4. PLOT: Design visceral plots that engage characters in emotional conflicts.
  5. THEMES: Give readers universal themes that expand their understanding of the world.
  6. STRUCTURE: Enhance reader satisfaction using a familiar story structure and scene flow.
  7. SCENE: Craft scene flow like a short story with an ending that compels reading the next.
  8. CONTENT: Deliver the actual content in a style that exceeds readers’ expectations.

Most readers want the comfort of a familiar story pattern blended and spiced with the author’s creativity.


Leave a Reply

What came through loud and clear from research was how often bestselling authors’ maintained a myopic focus on pleasing readers.

These authors:

  • Balanced their passion for writing with what readers want.
  • Learned and practiced their writing craft to please readers.
  • Refined storytelling techniques based on readers’ feedback.

Share your thoughts… and make your soul grow!

What’s included in your list of writing principles?

*My research included many authors and screenwriters, including (but not limited to) Margaret Atwood, David Baldacci, Frank L. Baum, James Scott Bell, Dan Brown, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly, William Wallace Cook (aka John Milton Edwards), Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson), Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming, Neil Gaiman, Gillian Flynn, Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, Dashiell Hammett, Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen King, Steven Konkoly, Dean Koontz, Chris Lang, Elmore Leonard, A. G. Riddle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sidney Sheldon, Blake Snider, Mickey Spillane, Dwight V. Swain, John Truby, Kurt Vonnegut.

**Source: https://boingboing.net/2023/04/19/kurt-vonneguts-2006-advice-to-high-schoolers-who-wrote-him-make-your-soul-grow.html

6 responses to “Busy Writers: Use Bestselling Authors’ Writing Principles to Please Readers”

  1. D. Wallace Peach Avatar

    Two things stood out for me in this post, Grant. First, the focus on the reader. I know that when I started out, the focus was on “me,” the story that I wanted to tell to myself. Lol. Sounds weird, but I wonder if that’s how many novice authors begin their writing journey. It’s the reason why continual feedback is so vital – we learn what our audience wants. The second thing your post made me think about is the importance of being a student of this craft. No matter how long we’ve been writing, there is always more to learn and room to grow. Great post.

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks, Diana! It’s fun and informative to compare past successful writers to current bestsellers. I agree, more to learn and room to grow!

  2. Jacqui Murray Avatar

    That does surprise me, Grant. I think that explains why agents are so lazer focused on what will sell. Great post.

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks, Jacqui! The prolific writing of Gardner, Dent, and others from the golden age of pulp fiction makes today’s writers look like slackers. So many lessons, and so practical, too!

  3. judeitakali Avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing this. If you want people to read your work, then you just can’t write for you. But always write for you as well, even if it’s very subtle. That’s what this reinforced in me.

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks for reading, Jude! The pulp fiction writers of the past and bestselling authors of today understand this principle. They wrote what they loved but styled the narratives to exceed the expectations of their target readers.

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