A key ingredient of a bestselling novel is character. The people in the novel and the relationships between them bring the plot to life.
A character needs to have agency, to act and do, rather than think and be. These characters behave differently to the masses. There is something that makes them special. They are unlike us. From childhood we’re taught to be polite, say please and thank you and sometimes to just let things go. We’re taught to apologise if we might be wrong and to qualify our statements with “I think” and “I believe.” But this minimises what we have to say. A heroic character in a novel does none of these things – she doesn’t let things go and she doesn’t apologise. She is active rather than passive.
My lead character, Claire, will have the drive to change her situation. She will do everything she can to turn things round, and even when things aren’t going her way she will keep fighting. She’ll be angry when things are unfair and she’s do something about it. She will need things rather than wish for things. She will act rather than consider.
In The Bestseller Code, Archer & Jockers list some of the most commonly used verbs in bestsellers (the list below is specific to female characters – men have a slightly different list!):
needs, wants, misses, loves, tells, likes, sees, hears, smiles, reaches, pulls, pushes, starts, works, knows, arrives, spends, walks, prays, hugs, talks, reads, imagines, decides, believes, screams, shoves, eats, nods, opens, closes, says, sleeps, types, watches, turns, runs, shoots, kisses, dies
And, for completeness, here are the verbs that don’t work (I’ll end up editing these ones out of my novel):
shouts, flings, whirls, thrusts, murmurs, protests, hesitates, halts, drops, accepts, dislikes, seems, supposes, recovers, grunts, clutches, peers, gulps, flushes, trembles, clings, jerks, shivers, breaks, fumbles