I think millions of fans were shocked by the sudden passing of Hollywood novelist, Jackie Collins, a writer hailed as both a ‘raunchy moralist’ and ‘the Marcel Proust of Hollywood’. Anthony Ehlers looks at some lessons learned from the queen of the bestseller.
While I was devastated, the first thing I did was start re-reading some of my favourite titles by this bestselling author. I realised I’d learned so many page-turning storytelling secrets from her over the last 20 years that I thought I’d share them in this blog post.
- Sinners. In this early novel, Jackie creates a fascinating love story by keeping the main characters apart as love interests for most of the story. Just when it looks like they might get together, fate and other lovers get in the way — until they’re united in confronting a deadly stalker. This created sustained tension throughout the whole narrative and kept you turning the pages. Lesson: Keep the lovers apart for as long as possible.
- Lovers and Gamblers. In this epic novel, Jackie exposes the seedy world of celebrity in Las Vegas and Hollywood, but in a dramatic chain break she has a private plane crash in the Amazon, forcing her main characters to fight for survival in a different kind of jungle. Lesson: Bring in the dramatic and unexpected twist for a spectacular conclusion.
- Hollywood Husbands. In this glitzy saga, Jackie introduces a dangerous antagonist early on in the story — a nameless young girl who takes revenge on her tormentors by starting deadly fires. The reader knows she’s grown up to be a powerful young woman in Hollywood’s fashionable circles, but she could be one of five or six characters. Lesson: Hide the antagonist’s identity until the very end of the story for nail-biting tension.
- Lady Boss. In her famous Santangelo series, Jackie has Lucky Santangelo take over a studio and the destiny of five powerful superstars. This is where Jackie excelled in most of her novels — in telling multi-cast storylines in much the way soap operas or telenovelas do on television. The reader becomes immersed in the fictional lives of the characters, and lives every emotion with the characters. Lesson: A braided storyline creates emotional impact and will support a story with multiple characters.
- The Power Trip. In one of her most recent books, Jackie assembles a small group of celebrities on a Russian billionaire’s new yacht for a maiden voyage — as they sail through the Sea of Cortez, old tensions and secrets flare and lusty new romances blossom, all while a group of pirates plan to seize the boat and hold it hostage. Lesson: A contained thriller is a great way to create tension and conflict in a story— because there is no escape for the characters.
In all her books, Jackie wasn’t afraid of big stories — sometimes she went over the top, but you were willing to follow her simply because she wrote such compelling, idiosyncratic, outrageous characters. She also created some truly creepy villains — like the perverted Herbert Lincoln Jefferson in Sinners or Deke the evil twin inHollywood Wives. She understood the value of a strong, wily antagonist in all her novels.
I guess what I learned from Jackie Collins — and perhaps the most important lesson — is to treat your writing like a fearless adventure and to have fun with the story.
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IMAGE: Jackie Collins / Wikimedia Creative Commons / GNU Free Documentation License
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