I was an account supervisor in a large advertising agency in San Francisco. My client was married to Danielle Steel. When I was told she was one of the most successful, most prolific authors of the day I uttered those ridiculous words, “I bet I could do that – I bet I could write a book.”
Well, my colleague dared me to do it so I dug in with both heels. At the very least, I would get a rejection and prove that I had tried. Maybe then she would stop laughing at my ridiculous boast. I tackled this challenge in the same way I tackled a marketing plan: by asking questions. How was a book published? Who did I have to talk to in order to get a book published? What kind of book had the greatest chance of being published? Finally, does one actually write a book?
The first three questions were easily answered. Even without the Internet (or computers) I was able to find out exactly how, who, and what. All the answers led to Harlequin. No agent needed, a synopsis and a partial submitted to editors directly and editorial guidelines were offered for each line. The only problem was that I had no idea how to write a book even though I had read hundreds. I could think of only one thing to do.
I would learn to write a book the same way I learned to sew – by studying and following a pattern.
It seemed appropriate that the pattern would be based on one of Danielle Steel’s novels. I can’t remember which book I chose, but I clearly remember three nights spent in front of a fireplace with that book, wine and a yellow marker. I read each page and highlighted the ‘seams’ of her work.
Â·When was the reader introduced to the main characters
Â·Where were the dramatic plot points
Â·When and where were the emotional reveals
Â·How many pages were there of expository
Â·How many pages were there in the book, for that matter
What role did secondary characters play and how often were they mentioned
When I was finished I had a simple, working plan – a pattern, if you will – and I was thrilled. I wrote for months and when I was done I had exactly the right number of pages, all the characters came in on cue and the plot was revealed appropriately.
Writing my book was like making a plain dress. Even I knew that, while I had meticulously followed the pattern, my work was lacking. My book was in dreadful need of buttons and bows to make it unique, to make every editorial head turn when I walked into the room via my novel.
When I understood this, I had the final piece of the pattern. Every book needs the right foundation – the proper pacing, a solid cast of characters, the right setting – but it also needs style. Style is what sets an artist apart from a painter, a fashion designer from a seamstress and a writer from an author.
I am writing my twenty-ninth book and I have learned a great deal but I still follow the pattern I created years ago after analyzing one of Danielle Steel’s books. Now I add on my own unique buttons and bows that are expressed through my voice, my observations and my personal inspiration. I can only hope that someday a writer will take one of my books, sit in front of the fireplace with a marker and ask, how did she do that? If she pays close attention, she will be able to see my pattern and then she will add her own buttons and bows.