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What makes a story popular?

I have noticed from time to time that people will post about how badly written a best-seller is. This is particularly true for the Twilight series, but also for pretty much any popular fiction. In some cases it's that the writing is weak, and in others it's merely that it's not "literary" enough for some tastes or that it's in a specific genre rather than being mainstream fiction (because everyone knows genre is a synonym for crap, right?). In the case of the Twilight books, it's worth pointing out that many folks (me included) hate aspects of the story more than they dislike the writing. 

I don't know about other writers, but I would much rather have a ton of readers than a ton of good reviews. And popular fiction does, by definition, have lots of readers. What makes a book popular? I've decided it all boils down to the writer being able to make the reader care what happens to the characters. That's story telling (as opposed to writing) in a nutshell. Of course, good writing helps, because it smooths the path to the reader engaging in the story, but if the reader doesn't care about the characters, then it just doesn't matter how well written the story is.

I think this also explains why nothing is universally liked. Personally, I never liked any of Hemingway's novels except for The Old Man and the Sea, and I think it was because I never liked his characters except for that old guy in his little boat.  I think it also explains why a series like Harry Potter could engage adults as well as young folks, and people who never read fantasy before. Rowling made everyone care what happened to the orphan boy who lived in the cupboard under the stairs. Of course, the range of her imagination as far as magical creatures and the meshing of the familiar school setting with unfamiliar magical rules didn't hurt. 

To conclude, I've embedded an amateur but clever video that summarizes the entire Harry Potter series in 60 seconds. I found it on the SF Signal site, even though I linked to the YouTube version.  Enjoy, but beware because there are spoilers!


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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
Strangely resonant with my own thought process while writing my post today. I actually loved The Da Vinci Code, and read it in one sitting despite being warned off by my writerly friends!

And I adore the Harry Potter series. Twilight is so bad that I physically can't stand it, but I couldn't care less about the writing. It's the characters and plot I can't bear!
Mar. 4th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
Even writers sometimes just want a good read!
Mar. 4th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! Both the post and the vid. (I nearly peed my pants when the chicken with a balloon head flashed on the screen.)
Mar. 4th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
I thought the chicken with the balloon was an inspired way to represent what was probably many thousands of dollars worth of CGI.
Mar. 8th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Best 60 second summary ever :)
Mar. 8th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
I thought so, too!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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