5 Patterns of Bestselling Novels

May 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

Dark Halo

5 Patterns of Bestselling Novels

If you read enough bestselling novels, a series of patterns consistently emerge that provide those popular stories with structure, organization and the sense of organic “reality” that readers subconsciously crave.

Once you know these patterns, and how to apply them to your own fictional work, you can create stories that look, sound and “feel” like a bestseller. Imagine that! It’s as if you tap into the unconscious, little known architecture that the mega-authors like King, Koontz, Steele, Roberts, Jordan and many others use in all of their novels. 

Consider a reader opening the first page of your story and, often without knowing it, picking up on subtle signals in your writing that prompt them to think:

  • I recognize this structure
  • I like this structure
  • I’ve read stories like this from bestselling authors 

What could it do for your writing career, if every reader encountered those kinds of thoughts? Again, this probably happens all outside of the reader’s awareness. On the surface, the reader might simply say to themselves, “This book is for me.” However, under the radar, your story hooks them from page one and never lets go. 

Ready for the 5 patterns? Here you go.

Pattern #1: The Story Pattern – While there are exceptions, virtually every story follows an established pattern. Break the pattern at your own risk. It’s possible to break it and succeed, but your safest bet is to stick with the pattern that has served storytellers well for centuries.  The Story Pattern, put simply, is:

Something Interesting Happens (Usually something bad that turns characters’ lives upside down) -> More bad things happen to characters (increasingly difficult and life-altering complications and challenges) -> Things get so bad it seems all is lost for the main character (this is sometimes called the climax) -> The protagonist/main character/hero/heroine wins. 

Again, there are many ways to adapt this structure to your specific story. For example, for my novel, Dark Halo, my story kicks off with a violent storm at the beginning, followed quickly by ghosts, a demon-possessed boyfriend and an unexpected visit from an angelic being. Events continually get worse as my main characters experience monsters, kidnappings, deaths, possessions and more as they plunge into the middle of an ancient war between angels and demons. You get the picture. Follow the story pattern, and you set your story up to engage the reader from page one.

Pattern #2: The Architecture Pattern – This is the overarching pattern of your novel that gives structure to your story. Use this structure to guide the story from start to finish. Use it to set the parameters of your story.  This is the essential foundation of your story upon which all other patterns stand. Although within this pattern there are numerous sub-patterns (the revenge pattern, the romance pattern, the mystery pattern, the thriller pattern, the heist pattern, the western pattern, the fantasy pattern, etc), choose the one that fits best into your story idea. You can even combine patterns. In my novel, Dark Halo, I chose to blend the thriller, suspense and paranormal/fantasy patterns.

Pattern #3: The Emotional Pattern – This is the underlying, emotional pattern running through your story. Most of the time, this pattern is more “felt” than recognized by readers, except for perhaps a statement such as, “The story was full of action”, or “That story was so romantic/funny/thrilling,”, etc.  One strategy for inserting this pattern into your story is to ask yourself, “What is the major emotion I want my readers to feel?” or “What one feeling do I want to elicit in this story?”  In my novel, Dark Halo, I want readers to feel “thrilling suspense” most of all.  On every page, I asked myself, “Does this create suspense? Is this thrilling? How can I make it more thrilling?” By testing each page, each scene and the overall story with these types of questions, my goal was to embed the emotional pattern into my story. You can do the same with your stories.

Pattern #4: The Mini-Story Pattern – Each scene has its own pattern, and different kinds of scenes can have different patterns.  This pattern is called the Mini-Story Pattern because most effective scenes contain all the elements of a story (i.e., characters, setting, plot, conflict, etc). Scenes consist of beginnings, middles and ends where motivated characters fight to achieve personal goals. Use the Mini-Story Pattern in each scene to pump structure into all parts of your work. In this way, your story unfolds in the most engaging, captivating manner that readers can’t resist.

Once again, the Mini-Story Pattern follows the Story Pattern: Interesting event -> Challenge/Struggle/Things get worse -> Problem reaches a climax where things seem as bad as they can get -> The scene ends, sometimes with the problem resolved, but often with another, usually worse, problem. In Dark Halo, the opening scene shows an angel falling out of the sky like a fireball. The angel struggles to stop his decent, and the scene ends with the angel in a heap of burning, black smoke. It’s the Mini-Story Pattern, and I repeat this pattern over and over again with different characters in different settings and circumstances, right up to the end of the novel.

Pattern #5: The Struggle Pattern – Finally, the fifth pattern is a character-specific pattern that plays out in multiple scenes in the overall arc of the story. Bestselling authors use The Struggle Pattern when they dramatize a character’s efforts to achieve a personal goal. Usually, the protagonist and antagonist (the hero and villain) have the most pressing goals. In other words, they are usually the most motivated characters, but minor characters also tend to have their own goals. Sometimes, these goals align with the main characters, sometimes they don’t. Most bestselling novels include a mix of characters, each with their own goals. As a rule of thumb, The Struggle Pattern typically includes a character making at least three attempts to achieve the goal before succeeding or failing. The main characters (protagonist/hero/heroine) usually make many more than three attempts.  In Dark Halo, for example, the main character, Landon Paddock, fights to save his family in a town besieged by shadowy, demonic forces. While there are other characters with other objectives, Landon’s goal focuses the story from start to finish.

In summary, here are the five patterns again:

  • The Story Pattern – (Inciting Event -> Rising Problems à Climax à Resolution)
  • The Architecture Pattern – What genre is the story?
  • The Emotional Pattern – What ONE feeling do you want to elicit?
  • The Mini-Story Pattern – Each scene follows the Story Pattern above
  • The Struggle Pattern – (Character goal -> 3 attempts à Succeed or fail)

If you want to see how all five patterns integrate into a fully formed novel, consider checking out my standalone story, Dark Halo. All five patterns are there, so you could even call them the “Dark Halo” patterns.

Thanks for reading this post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

 What questions do you have about these patterns? Or, how have you used these patterns in your stories? 

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