Currently I am reading Timeline by Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park and the Lost World; and as of today I have read most of the book in enjoyment and distress. Enjoyment, because I’m a sucker for a fast thriller and action sequences get my adrenaline pumping; and distress, because I savor thoughtful character development and scene description, such as in my recent reading of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. While reading Timeline, however I have realized a blockbuster has its place in literature–they are difficult books to write–and they acquire so much popularity among readers because of these specially chosen factors:
- The definition of a blockbuster is “something notably effective or successful,” and when I hear the words “effective” my mind springs to formulaic thinking, which is how most blockbusters and consistently adrenaline-fueled thrillers are constructed. It usually starts with a simple plot sketch of the rising conflicts–these are tense scenes for the purpose of hooking the reader without divulging deeply into character motivation and backstory–then throughout the first chapters characters are hastily introduced as defined outlines of their personalities (sometimes these can be stereotypical personalities but more on that later…). And soon the story comes to an explosive conclusion in the final chapters–this is the release of the carefully balanced tension throughout the novel.
- In blockbusters characters are mere outlines of themselves–what they lack in psychological development they contribute to with repetition of names, like “Hank climbed the tree” and “Hank waved to Judy and Jack at Steven’s house,” and quirky traits which they repeat constantly in the story: say the protagonist is a fireman who hates touching water and is always carrying a pair of gloves with him– maybe he says “got to get ’em dry” before tugging them on at the hydrant. His actions will be repetitive and predictable; and likely you will feel comforted by the repetition…perhaps annoyed as well.
- This is a blockbuster sentence. Short and to the point; and ridding a paragraph of all unnecessary descriptions and words. Blockbuster sentences focus on the action at hand–if the antagonist rifleman is preparing to fire a shot at the heroine cowering in the house, then by God the next few paragraphs will center around his aim and his fingers and his mind; how each of them result in his squeezing the trigger on that sweet 22′ caliber. The impact sentences–“The bullet shot from the barrel, whistling. It pegged Katelyn in the forehead, and blood flecked her shining hair. She stiffened and tumbled sideways down the stairs.” By the way that is not an exceptional blockbuster paragraph in any form, merely an amateur writing.
Those three elements are key to a blockbuster…but if you want a successful story, then you need to have an intriguing premise that knows how to scoop up the action on a hot platter and maintain the heat while serving slices of itself to the readers on consistently sized plates. Then it is all up to you on how you personally spice the dish.