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I saw “Angels and Demons” the movie last weekend. It was excellent. Fast-paced, exciting, interesting story and great entertainment. Kudos to the excellent direction of Ron Howard, but it was still based on the Dan Brown book of the same name.
Dan Brown gets a rough deal from literary critics, but he is a popular novel-writing genius spawning a whole genre of pseudo-religious thriller. His next book “The Lost Symbol” is out in September and no doubt Random House is raking in the millions in presales already.
A few weeks ago, I asked whether you wanted to be a best selling author or a best writing author. No one would say that Dan Brown writes literature, but “The Da Vinci Code” is one of the best-selling novels of all time. It has sold more than 80 million copies and is translated into 51 languages.
So how does Dan Brown do it? I decided to find out some more about him and what we, as authors, can learn from him.
- Base your work on what you know. Dan Brown studied Art History at the University of Seville in Spain. He used a lot of what he learned in his novels.
- Research is key. His novels are based on real artwork and real history but twisted into fiction to create a great story rooted in enough facts to keep it credible. He spent a year researching before writing “The Da Vinci Code” and utilizes the “thriller as academic lecture” approach.
- A little controversy helps with marketing. “The Da Vinci Code” had a lot of people upset about the divinity of Jesus and even the Catholic Church weighed into the debate. This got a lot of publicity for the book and the author. Brown also got sued by Baigent & Leigh, the authors of “The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail”, which also increased publicity.
- If you find a great character, keep writing about him. Professor Robert Langdon is an excellent character. I'm not aware of any other symbologists in fiction (before Langdon anyway) and there are certainly enough symbols to make for many sequels.
- Persist and keep writing. “The Da Vinci Code” was the fourth book that Dan Brown wrote (although he also co-wrote others before), but it was the catalyst for his success. If he had given up after the first book, he would not have made it to the multi-millionaire he must be today.
- Use the classic elements of a thriller… and repeat. This article suggests “a shadowy force, secret society or government agency, a big idea with a moral grey area, and a treasure” plus “set in 24 hours..a simple hero pulled out of his familiar world”. The book may be formulaic, but the formula works. People love this archetypal story, so they keep buying.
Dan Brown has made it into the movies which sky-rockets the author's revenue. How does he do it when plenty of ‘literary' authors fail? This quote also sums it up from the brilliant book Story by Robert McKee
“Countless writers lavish dressy dialogue and manicured descriptions on anorexic yarns and wonder why their scripts never see production, while others with modest literary talent but great storytelling power have the deep pleasure of watching their dreams living in the light of the screen”
Story-telling power is what gives Dan Brown his edge over others. Whatever you think of his books, he is certainly successful and as such, we can all learn from him.