The idea for the Better Novel Project came from my realization that Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all had three very basic things in common: they are all young adult stories that contain other-worldly subject matter, and are thrilling enough to be turned into hit movies. Of course, these books eventually all became part of a series or saga. But, readers fell in love with the first books on their own, so we will start there.
Young Adult Genre
The three books are written for young adults, and the heroes are themselves children or young adults.
- Harry Potter is eleven-years-old. The story begins when he is an infant, and then flashes forward ten years: “He’d lived with the Dursley’s almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as he could remember, even since he’d been a baby and his parents had died in that car crash.” (HP Ch.2). The bulk of Harry’s adventures takes place after he turns eleven.
- Bella Swan is seventeen-years-old. “It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.” (TW Ch.1).
- Katniss Everdeen is sixteen-years-old. “Twelve- through eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, the young ones, like Prim, toward the back. . . . I find myself standing in a clump of sixteens from the Seam.” (HG Ch.1).
Magic, Fantasy, or SciFi
Each hero has experiences that are way outside the reader’s everyday world.
- Harry Potter encounters magic and discovers he is a wizard. “‘An’ you’ve kept it from him all these years?’ ‘Kept what from me?’ said Harry eagerly. . . . ‘Harry — yer a wizard.'” (HP Ch.4).
- Bella Swan meets vampires and werewolves. “‘You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf — well, not the wolf, really but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves.'” (TW Ch.6).
- Katniss Everdeen lives in a futuristic dystopia. “He tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. . . .The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace, and as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.” (HG Ch. 1).
Note that Harry Potter and Twilight start off with the hero living in a world similar to that of the reader’s. Unlike Harry discovering magic and Bella meeting vampires, Katniss is already living in a world that seems like science fiction to the reader. True, she is amazed by the amenities in the Capitol, but this wonder is more about the riches of the city rather than the existence of the superior technology itself. The “other world” element for Katniss is her fight-to-the-death experience in the arena, but for the reader the whole story is another world.
Novels turned into Films
Besides being immensely popular as books, these novels are also hugely successful movies. A teenage-action movie needs a story written in a suspenseful and page-turning style. At this point, I know that this style must exist within the story, but I need to do some more research on how to execute it.
So, these are the common elements that jumped right out at me. The task now is to generalize the elements and find a place for them in the Master Outline.
Reduced to its most basic form, I think a novel will have a better chance of being successful if it is a suspenseful, action-filled story starring a young adult hero and his or her out-of-this-world experiences.
Head over to the Master Outline page to see how I’ve fit each element in. We’ll piece together a general structure for the master outline next time.