Love or loathe him there is one thing Nicholas Sparks does well. Actually quite a few things and this compressing an epic story into an average 90-100k words novel. I’m not one for his manipulative emotive writing – which is another talent but he very talented at condensing and cramping backstory without losing much reader attention.
I shall be digressing on all sorts of things but I hope the main gist of the post is clear.
Now this isn’t a debate on the merits of his work – please let’s just look at what works, strip down his technique to the bare bones and then apply it out our own work. Who really cares about content when we are after structure.
So what does he sparkle at? The ‘getting to know you stage’ with characters. He takes set-up scenes with a whole load of back-story and summarises them in very little words so they don’t seem like info dumps. He also does the same with dialogue using key words to establish the emotions.The best example of this is The Choice where the main character is faced with making a hard decision to do with his loved one.
Even when he does a lot backstory in a chapter it normally spans years but he weaves in description and SHOWS NOT TELLS. The first chapter of The Best of Me is a good example. Yes, you may yawn but was very well done. You can see that on Amazon and decide for yourself. The test is does it hold my interest to keep on flicking pages?
Some can debate it is almost all narrative because of the way Sparks weaves the story – but it works. As a bored reader, he had me hooked at time and thought ‘Wow! Dude, there is a reason why you sell books!’ His technique – I’m not debating his stories – goodness knows that is raging debate, but for genre writing technique – you gotta give it to him.
Yes, I agree his books are more cinematic so it’s easy to transfer to the big screen but that is a talent within itself.
So I think he’s very good at what he does. It works because he sells a lot. I’m not saying to write a Nicholas Sparks type novel – nah, I’m saying look at what works for him and the techniques he uses to overcome potentially difficult prose problems.
He is also a master of manipulating readers’ emotions but he uses a lot of tropes so not a fan. It works because it is blatant and even shameless manipulation on some front, and I think though it sells a lot, it’s on that front he loses literary credibility.
Some of his work reads like a glorified Harlequin category novels with a more depth and after a while, reading a few his stories seem formulaic. However he is also very good at it. You can google his techniques and story formula since they are all the internet – however as I said he uses other literary devices and techniques to spin the story together – those are can be applied in any writing – genre or literary.
Yeah, that’s all I have to say.