How would you like for Nicholas Sparks to teach you how to write a best-selling book?

The author of New York Times #1 bestselling books will tell us how it is done on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this (Sunday) afternoon at 5:00 p.m.

Sparks says that he does not start writing until he has a full-blown story organized in his head. But, I wondered, if he is not writing down his preliminary ideas, just how does he put together a fully developed story?

It is not complicated, Sparks assures us. First, he gets his main characters in mind, usually a man and a woman. He tries to come up with characters who are different from those in his recent books. Then he decides what their ages will be.

He knows that the man and the woman are going to be separated from each other. Sparks asks himself how did they come to be away from each other, and then he asks how are they going to get back together.

Finally, he figures out how the story will end: “For me it’s either happy, sad, or bittersweet,” he says. “There’s only three [possible endings].” Af they are going to be happy in the end, Sparks continues, something sad has to happen along the way.

“Then I have a story,” he says.

Next, he looks for a good location to set the action. For Sparks, the place is usually somewhere in Eastern North Carolina, not too far from his New Bern home.

With the basic plot, characters and setting established, Sparks says that he is on his way to another bestseller.

This afternoon he talks about last year’s bestseller, “The Best of Me,” a book that reflects Sparks’s formula for successful writing.

Sparks has created two complicated but sympathetic central characters: Dawson and Amanda, high school sweethearts in the coastal North Carolina town of Oriental. They are inseparable and deeply in love. According to Sparks’s formula they must become separated. How does it happen?

They come from different backgrounds: Dawson from a lowlife, petty crime family, and Amanda from Oriental’s aristocracy. After high school, Amanda goes to college at Duke. She marries a Durham dentist soon after and loves her children. She does not see Dawson for more than 20 years.

Meanwhile, after spending some time in prison, unfairly, Dawson leads a solitary life working on an oil rig. He is still so much in love with Amanda that he never has a serous relationship with another woman.

Now, how does Sparks get them back together again?

The death of an older friend and mentor to both Dawson and Amanda brings the two back to Oriental at the same time. They find that he has left them detailed instructions, which he has designed to bring them back together and deal with their unresolved love for each other while they put the old man’s affairs in order.

They are drawn back to each other immediately. Strong feelings push to the surface. Sparks teases his readers with the question of whether and how the old romance can be rekindled without breaking up Amanda’s marriage and family.

Sparks’s clever plot and story-telling gifts push his readers to rush to the end, where they, some tearfully, will learn how he meets that challenge.

In constructing his stories, Sparks says he follows six rules:
(1) Write efficiently. Don’t use 900 pages to tell a 200-page story.
(2) Evoke genuine emotion.
(3) Characters have to be universal.
(4) There should be roots in Greek tragedy.
(5) Appeal to a woman’s fantasy.
(6) Loyalty has to win in the end.

There you have it. Watch Sparks on Bookwatch this Sunday afternoon for a review of his bestselling strategy. Then start planning your own bestseller.

Remember, first, get those two main characters in mind!