How to Write a Novel for the Masses

Surefire advice for creating a runaway bestseller

The one thing necessary in a novel of romance is romance. The ordinary novel reader is a dull bird, who knows little, and cares less, about the facts of history, the cut of a cloak, or the geography of a particular country. To him anachronisms do not, exist, because he would not know one if he saw it in a cage. Of course I don't mean you, dear reader; but you must admit that the vast majority of the reading public is made up of dull, unthinking people, so why should writers spend so much time substantiating facts, studying costumes and scenery and other details that do not affect the real interest of the story, which is and must be the romantic portion of it?

Let me show you how it ought to be done:-

"It was dawn of a clear spring morning, Guy le Cormorant set forth from his father's castle with never a sou in his pocket, a large credit at his banker's, and the whole world before him."

Here chuck in some reference to the "'Provençal robins' that during the reign of the good Louis sang with such surpassing sweetness." If you wish to, run in a few Breton peasants, and dot the meadow with sheep, and fill the fields with Lyonnaise potatoes. The public won't know or care whether you are right or not.

Now it's time for your first adventure, for you are nearing the end of the second page, and a successful romantic novel should yield an adventure to every ten pages, and stop at the 300th page.

'Around the corner of the Louvre" (never mind what or where the Louvre is; the public will think it is a river or a field) "came the wicked seneschal, Vignon de Morimont. His fat horse jogged along lazily, and from the corners of his treacherous eyes he looked at the brave young Guy."

Now have Guy accuse him of having murdered his (Guy's) grandmother in 1560.

"When my father told me that my grandam" ("grandam" has a good sound always, like a great oath) "had been murdered by de Morimont of Morimont Castle, I swore that the murder should not go unavenged. All this morning have I sought thee; now have I found thee. Prepare for an awful doom."

Now let them draw their broadswords, and then say something about Richelieu having issued an edict against the carrying of broadswords by gentlemen. Start in as if you were going to be very dry over it, but cut it short quickly. That will make the reader like you. Then have Guy fly at the wicked seneschal, and spit him on the broadsword, and toss him into a plane tree. A plane tree is better than the most ornate tree that your reader is likely to know about. If a man thinks that you know something that he doesn't know, he suspects you of knowing other things of which he is ignorant, and his respect increases.

Having tossed the seneschal into the plane tree, let Guy mount his horse and continue on his way. Adventure number one is over, and he has won out easily, but it will be a mistake to let him win every round with as little effort. In a story, a dead-sure thing is not exciting.

It is now time to bring in more singing of birds, as a sort of contrast. If a shepherd is handy, let him pipe up a little, so as to put Guy into good spirits, as the stabbing of the seneschal is on his nerves a bit. Guy might toss the shepherd a sequin or a groat. The public has heard of both coins, but doesn't know where they grow.

Refer briefly to the clouds, and carry him on horseback past the place "where in 1493, the year after Columbus discovered America, two monks of St Bernard were murdered by Villon, the poet scamp. A shrine still marks the spot,—a shrine erected by Villon’s daughter." That will make the public say, "My, don't he know a lot!"

Now it is high time to bring Blanche de Boisgobey upon the scene. You may have her poor, but of good family, or you may make her a rich runaway, fleeing from the unpleasant attentions of Prince de Joinville; but have her family good, by all means, and she herself must be absolutely unspotted. The great public will not stand for a tarnished woman in the role of heroine of one of these romantic novels.

Describe her clothes, but in this you'll have to be careful; for while the men won't know anything about it, the women will catch on if you make any flagrant error. I guess you'll have to take the trouble to read up on the clothes, unless you have a sister who is up on garments. You might dress Blanche in the fashion of to-day, and say that she was fond of being ahead of her time.

But if you drop a hint of another adventure, not far off, you can draw it mild on the clothes business. Make her just as pretty as you know how, and that without describing her features; because no two persons agree on a woman's beauty, particularly no man and woman. Just say that she was as beautiful as "that fair queen of Greece whose husband swam the Hellespont to rescue her from the clutches of King Xerxes." There's more ancient history, and the dear public is left to its own imagination to conjure up proper features for her.

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