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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Heath brothers released a book a few years back called MADE to STICK. In it they detail what makes ideas stick dubbed their SUCCESs Model:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Story

I’ve not read the book or seen either version of the movie, but I have heard of it and am glad Michelle blogged about her experience.

So, here’s my stab at applying the SUCCESs model to why this book is a bestseller. I think a good bit of the hype has to do with just the name of the book: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The title itself is Simple – we know what it’s about. (Or we think we do. The comments above reveal that at least in the first book the namesake Girl isn’t much involved.)

It’s Unexpected. Boys get flashy, dangerous tattoos. A girl with one? That’s very unexpected.

It’s Concrete. The words and definite and clearly evoke a mental image. Girl, Tattoo, Dragon.

The “Credible” concept is hard to apply to fiction. It overlaps with “Concrete” in my understanding. It’s the vivid details (the mental image evoked by the words) and surely the cover art adds to this. (I wonder if this has hurt electronic sales since there is no cover art…hmm… This is an interesting way to objectively verify the theory though I can’t imagine the effect would be great…)

Emotional. Think about it. A girl. With a tattoo. Of a dragon. Doesn’t that evoke something more than just an unexpected image? Dragon and Tattoo are emotively packed words. They scream their connotations: bad girl, rough life, eastern influence, mystery… It doesn’t get much more emotional in only six words.

Lastly, and most importantly, story. There is technically no story in the six words of the title. They are a phrase and no more. However, being that this is a book title there is the *promise* of a story.

Thus people buy. And they recommend it to their friends before actually reading said book or watching said movie. Because the *title* is sticky.

Perhaps we could all learn a lot from Stieg Larsson and the Heath brothers about properly formulating a title. It may be more important than even the 25-word summary.

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Source: How-to Author, Randy Ingermanson – Margie Lawson.

The only teacher whom I’ve seen mention this is Robert McKee in his book STORY, but he doesn’t explain how it’s useful to the novelist, because he’s interested in teaching screenwriters.

This critical layer [of plotting] is the “sequence of scenes.”  McKee explains in his book that the tension builds in intensity through a sequence of scenes–usually 3 to 5 of them. Then something important happens and the tension goes down.  It begins building again in the next sequence of scenes.

When I read McKee, I realized that this is the golden key for writing the synopsis.  The synopsis is easily the most hated piece of writing that any novelist ever does.  But you have to write a synopsis.

Here’s the secret:  When you write a synopsis, each paragraph should summarize a sequence of scenes.  If you try to summarize each scene, that’s too much detail. Summarize several scenes together as a single unit.  If you do that, your synposis will come out to about 2 single-spaced pages which is just about right.  If you don’t do that, you’re going to hate your synopsis.  (Okay, you’re going to hate your synopsis no matter what you do, but if you do it this way, you’ll get a good result, which is all that matters.)

You gotta love Randy’s humor – and his attention to detail with the craft of writing.

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