I just read a terrific detective-thriller called The Naked Philosopher, by Paul Margolis, and it’s a perfect example of the biggest trend in worldwide storytelling today: the new novel. The new novel is one that you control from start to finish. And because you publish it yourself, you have a guaranteed credit that begins the process of getting your unique voice out into the world.
The Naked Philosopher is Margolis’ first novel, but he’s done his homework. He got his training, and a few awards, by writing for twenty years in television, the most intense training ground for writers in the world, especially with its relentless demand for more plot. He’s also taken the Anatomy of Story Masterclass, and story structure doesn’t get any tighter than this.
To succeed with the new novel, you have to be smart at every step of the process. First, you have to pick a popular genre, but also one you can write well. For Margolis, that meant the ever-popular detective story. But he also knew the drawbacks to detective stories, so he added elements of thriller, most importantly putting the investigating hero into great danger.
The detective plot is the most complex plot of any genre, with multiple characters, multiple suspects and multiple reveals. As is true for any story, but especially true in detective, the game is won or lost in the set up.
The Naked Philosopher has a solid foundation, with not one but two ghosts, one professional and one personal. The hero, Jack, is a disgraced former LAPD detective because of a case that went bad. He is also estranged from his father, a brilliant philosophy professor who may, or may not, want to set things right.
Wisely, the writer doesn’t start the novel with these events, but he does refer to them in the early part of the book. These ghost events give the detective hero a strong personal motivation for his investigation, and both contribute to a terrific plot payoff at the end of the book.
Margolis also gives his hero a number of weaknesses and needs, both psychological and moral. I believe the single most important technique in storytelling, regardless of medium or genre, is that plot must come from character. Here they are intimately connected, so the surprise ending gives us a character payoff as well.
To figure out this most complex of all genre plots, Margolis uses a technique I emphasize in the Detective, Crime and Thriller Class: always start with the opponent’s plan. The detective must uncover what the opponent has done, so much of the quality of a detective story is how ingenious you make the killer. The Naked Philosopher has a very tricky killer.
Margolis uses another technique found in many of the best detective stories: the double mystery. This has lots of advantages, including raising the stakes and increasing the detective’s challenge.
Of course, a double mystery is also a much bigger challenge for the writer, since it greatly magnifies the complexity of an already convoluted form. But the payoff, if you can execute it, and Margolis can, is immense. You get a tremendous density of plot beats, and the cumulative effect of the deeper connections of the story coming to light at a faster and faster pace is thrilling for the reader (hence the term “thriller”).
Perhaps the smartest move the writer made here is coming up with a superb surprise ending. One thing I love about this book is that it plays fair with the reader. The clues are there. If you follow them closely, you may be able to guess the ending. I challenge you to do just that. Message me on my Facebook page, so no one else can see it, and let me know if you succeeded, and if so, how.
Of course, writing a terrific book like this is only half the battle. Then you have to publish it and get it noticed. Again, Margolis has played it smart, executing the steps we discuss in detail in the Story for Novelists Class to perfection.
Over the course of the writing process, he used a top developmental editor and a top copy editor. A developmental editor helps you get the story right. A copy editor helps you get the grammar right. Both are essential if you want your novel to reach the high level of quality that is essential for your book to stand above the crowd. No matter how good or experienced a writer you are, you need a number of outside professional eyes to look like the real deal.
Next, Margolis went through an inexpensive but excellent online design company, 99 Designs, to create a professional looking cover. When you are self-publishing, you can’t afford to have the book’s first impression be amateurish. Yes, people do judge a book by its cover.
Finally, the writer made his book available on all the major online book sellers, including Amazon (both paperback and Kindle), Nook (Barnes & Noble) and iBooks (Apple). Now he’s hard at work on the promotion process.
If you want a thoroughly entertaining read by a master writer, read The Naked Philosopher. And if you want the best chance to break through in the worldwide storytelling market, write and publish the new novel. Just make sure to play it smart every step of the way.