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James Altucher


10 Things I Learned from Thriller Writer Brad Meltzer

Brad has sold 10s of millions of his books. His new book, "The Lightning Rod" is coming out next week. That's probably when the podcast will be released. I plan on keeping track of "what I learn" in these idea lists to remind me.

    1. There was a Secret Group

    I vaguely remembered a few different thriller writers telling me the government called on them about 15 years ago to come up with scenarios terrorists could use to attack the US. Brad is the only one officially on record as being part of that group.

    2. Outline 50-100 pages at a time

    Let the story surprise you like it surprises the readers (some exceptions, listed below).

    3. Characters are the most important part of writing a novel.

    I asked Brad how he's improved over the past 25 years of his writing career and he responded, "Characters". He said, "You have to know everything about each character, even minor characters. If you don't care about them, how will the readers care about them?"

    4. Twists vs Archetypes

    When Brad was describing to me how he views "twists" in a novel it reminded me of other art forms as well. Take an archetype ('the hero", "the trickster", the "cheated on spouse", etc) and have the person take a role in the story that is very different from the archetype. Readers will assume all sorts of features that these archetypal characters have (I am not quoting Brad but distilling what I think I learned from what he was saying) so it's easier to surprise them.

    This reminds me of non-fiction articles as well. You still tell a story. And rather than an archetypal character you challenge, perhaps, an archetypal aspect of society (like "home ownership" or "college is dead" or "NYC is dead", etc). You dont' do this to be controversial. Do it when you mean it so you can argue it. These are the articles that go viral because of the huge cognitive dissonance it will create.

    5. Negative Feedback is the ONLY feedback.

    If you ask a friend, "hey, do you think this is a good idea for a book/business/etc?" If they say "yes", you learn nothing. they might just be saying "yes" to get off the phone with you. You have no clue.

    But a "no" always has a reason. "There's a reason they don't like something." That feedback is valuable.

    6. Readers don't believe in coincidences for good things

    This is related to the idea above. Negative things are true. But positive things might not be. So if a character solves his or her problems by winning the lottery and it's totally a coincidence, then that will be not believed by the reader and the writer loses.

    7. Don't give up when people say "No".

    24 publishers said "no" to Brad's first book. "Which is funny," brad said, "because I only sent it to 21 publishers.

    Don't give up when you are pursuing your passion.

    8. Niche down twice.

    This is also related to something John Lee Dumas told me about starting a new podcast.

    If you want to write a book, do a podcast, etc , niche down twice. For instance, Brad wanted to write a novel. What genre? Thriller (niche one). What type of thriller? Legal thriller (niche twice) His first few thrillers were legal thrillers.

    For a podcast, what is your niche? Movies? Ok, what aspect of movies? Denzel Washington? Ok, thus the podcast, "Denzel Washington is the greatest actor ever. Period." started.

    9. Know who the bad guy is.

    "When I start writing," Brad said, "I always know an inciting incident to get the story going and I know who is the bad guy." Because, he said, you can't have the bad guy in the room when the bad guy is doing whatever bad thing he did.

    10. Comic books don't have a three act structure.

    Brad has also written on many different comic books. "because Superman's story never ends, there's no real finality to each issue of a comic book." I think he was saying why many of the super hero shows fail - because in the tv shows, they are forced to have a 3 act structure.

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